Europe’s first Jupiter mission is just a week away.
European Space Agency (ESA) Jupiter Ice Moon Explorer The probe, or JUICE for short, is scheduled to lift off on an Ariane 5 rocket from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, on April 13 at 8:15 a.m. EDT (1215 GMT).
You can watch the launch on Space.com when the time comes, courtesy of ESA.
Related: Europa’s flagship JUICE mission will study Jupiter’s moons Europa, Callisto and Ganymede.
Liftoff will begin a long interplanetary journey for JUICE, ending with the spacecraft’s arrival in orbit around Jupiter in 2031.
The 6.6-tonne (6 metric tons), solar-powered probe will then conduct a series of flybys of three of Jupiter’s four large Galilean moons – Ganymede, Europa and Callisto, all of which are believed to have oceans of liquid water beneath their ice. Shell (JUICE will not study the fourth Galilean moon, the incredibly volcanic IO, in such detail.)
Then, in 2035, JUICE will move from the orbit of Jupiter to the orbit of Ganymede, the largest moon in the Solar System. This move will make JUICE the first probe to orbit a moon other than Earth.
All the while, JUICE will keep an eye on Jupiter and three target moons with a powerful suite of 10 science instruments, studying them in unprecedented detail.
“The mission will identify these moons as planetary bodies and potential habitats, explore Jupiter’s complex environment in depth, and study the wider Jupiter system as a prototype for gas giants throughout the universe,” ESA officials wrote in a Mission Description (opens in new tab).
JUICE’s launch will be followed in relatively short order by another Jupiter mission — NASA’s Europa Clipper, which will lift off aboard a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket in October 2024.
As its name suggests, Europa Clipper will focus on Europa, studying the icy moon in detail during dozens of flybys. (CLIPPER will orbit Jupiter, as will JUICE in the beginning.)
Many astronomers see Europa as one of the Solar System’s best bets to host alien life, in part because the moon’s ocean appears to be in contact with its rocky core, allowing complex chemistry to occur. The buried oceans of Ganymede and Callisto, in contrast, are thought to be sandwiched between ice layers.
One mission is currently orbiting Jupiter — NASA’s Juno, which reached the Solar System’s largest planet in 2016. Juno’s mission is expected to end in 2025.
Mike Wall is the author of “there (opens in new tab)” (Grand Central Publishing, 2018; illustrated by Carl Tate), a book about the search for extraterrestrial life. Follow him on Twitter @michaeldwall (opens in new tab). follow us on Twitter @space.com (opens in new tab) And then Facebook (opens in new tab).