Space enthusiasts will get to have some JUICE for breakfast on Thursday morning. The European Space Agency (ESA) is set to launch the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission (JUICE) on April 13 from Europe’s Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana at 9:15 AM local time (8:15 AM EDT). Curious viewers can watch the live broadcast beginning at 7:45 AM EDT on the ESA’s webpage.
The spacecraft is safe inside its Ariane 5 rocket, the same rocket that launched the James Webb Space Telescope (JWST) in December 2021. JUICE is Europe’s first-ever mission to the Jupiter system, and the spacecraft should be in our solar system’s largest planet’s orbit by July 2031.
[Related: Astronomers find 12 more moons orbiting Jupiter.]
According to the ESA, If the mission is delayed, the team can try again to launch JUICE once each day for the rest of April. If the spacecraft fails to launch this month, the next available slot is August 2023.
Once JUICE is launched, it will deploy its antennas, solar arrays, and other instruments. The explorer has two monitoring cameras that will capture parts of the solar array deployment following launch, according to the ESA. The 52 feet-long radar antenna will deploy a few days later.
Over the eight years that it will take to reach Jupiter, the spacecraft will conduct three Earth flybys and one flyby of Venus. The flybys will give JUICE the spacecraft the necessary gravity assists so it can launch itself towards Jupiter, around 559 million miles away from Earth.
After it reaches Jupiter’s orbit in July 2031, JUICE will make detailed observations of Jupiter and three of its biggest moons, Ganymede, Callisto, and Europa. In 2034, JUICE is slated to go into orbit around Ganymede and will become the first human spacecraft to enter orbit around another planet’s moon. Ganymede is also the only moon in the solar system that has its own magnetic field. JUICE will study how this field interacts with the even larger magnetic field on Jupiter.
NASA will provide the Ultraviolet Spectrograph (UVS) and subsystems and components for two additional JUICE instruments: the Particle Environment Package (PEP) and the Radar for Icy Moon Exploration (RIME) experiment.
Studying Jupiter and its moons more closely will help astrobiologists understand how habitable worlds might emerge around gas giant planets, according to NASA. Jupiter’s moons are primary targets for astrobiology research, since moons like Europa are thought to have oceans of liquid water beneath their icy surfaces. Astrobiologists believe that these oceans could possibly be habitable for life.