ESA probe to investigate Jupiter’s ice moon begins thermal vacuum test

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The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer probe has been placed in the Large Space Simulator at ESA’s test center ESTEC in Noordwijk. There will be rigorous and important thermal tests for weeks. This ESA probe is to investigate the icy moon Ganymede from 2032.

The probe named Juice has been placed in the simulator room, according to the ESA. This is the largest single vacuum chamber in Europe, measuring 15 meters high and 10 meters wide. Soon, all kinds of thermal tests will be held there for weeks. Once the door of this simulator closes, the probe is exposed to very high and very low temperatures to ensure Juice can withstand the conditions of its mission.

For example, Juice will first make a flyby along Venus, among other things, reaching temperatures of 250 degrees Celsius. In contrast, in the Jovian system, the name for Jupiter and its moons, the probe will face temperatures of -180 degrees Celsius.

Juice in the Large Space Simulator

ESA project manager Giuseppe Sarri told de Volkskrant that one cannot afford to make mistakes that the use of the simulator costs 20,000 euros per day. If a problem were to arise, there could be a delay of a few weeks. “You can never exactly predict or calculate how a spacecraft will behave,” he says. “That’s why such a thermal vacuum test is essential. You discover, for example, that a certain antenna gets just a little too hot. In fact, a few small adjustments are always needed afterwards.” It will be clear at the beginning of next month whether the probe has been fully approved.

Juice will remain at ESTEC until July, after which the probe will be transported to Toulouse for a final round of testing, which will include testing whether the probe can withstand the vibrations encountered during the actual launch. From there, the trip will head to French Guiana, to be launched on an Ariane 5 rocket in August next year. Juice will not arrive at Jupiter until July 2031, after which the spacecraft will enter orbit around the ice moon Ganymede a year later.

The ESA probe will also study the icy moons Europa and Callisto, although it mainly revolves around Ganymede. This moon has a very deep ocean below its surface, which could be home to microorganisms. This ocean contains much more water than Europa and Ganymede also has a magnetic field to block deadly radiation. Europe is the primary target of an American mission called Europa Clipper.

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