ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) is returning to Earth, for now, anyway.
On November 17, JUICE performed a 43-minute burn to get into position for the upcoming Earth-Moon flyby, the first ever double gravity assist for the two celestial bodies. This was the spacecraft’s largest maneuver to date. “This maneuver consumed approximately 363 kilograms (800 pounds) of fuel — or almost exactly 10% of the 3,650 kilograms (8,047 pounds) of fuel released with JUICE,” said Julia Schwartz, a flight dynamics engineer at the Mission Control Center. ESOC of the European Space Agency in Germany. He said in A statement.
The spacecraft lifted off from French Guiana on April 23, 2023, and is eventually headed to space Jupiter To study the planet and three of its icy, potentially oceanic moons: Ganymede, CallistoAnd Europe. But in order to get there, it needs to perform a series of gravity assists, fly by the inner solar system’s planets and use their gravitational tides to fling itself toward its target — a technique that saves overall fuel.
This burn is one of two necessary to put JUICE on track to assist Earth and the Moon’s gravity, the first in A series of aid, which will occur in August 2024. “This first burn did 95% of the work, changing JUICE’s velocity by about 200 meters per second (656 feet per second),” Schwartz said. “JUICE is one of the heaviest interplanetary spacecraft ever launched, with a total mass of about 6,000 kilograms (13,228 pounds), so it took a lot of power and a lot of fuel to make it happen.”
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In the coming weeks, ESA will analyze Joyce’s new orbit before calibrating the second burn to adjust the probe’s trajectory to assist the dual gravity. “If all goes well with both parts of this maneuver, we will likely not need to use the main engine again until we enter orbit around Jupiter in 2031,” Ignacio Tanco, JUICE spacecraft operations manager, said in a statement. “For occasional small course corrections, we will use JUICE’s smaller thrusters.”
This first burn was particularly difficult, as parts of it could not be tested beforehand. “For example, we only had an estimate of how the liquid in the fuel tanks would move as the spacecraft accelerated,” Tanko said. “It’s very important to know this precisely, because if the fuel behaves differently than we expect, it could cause the spacecraft to veer off course during burn. So, we’re monitoring closely.”
The team will use data from this burn to help inform future burns to insert the probe into Jupiter, when JUICE will need to slow down by about 1 kilometer per second (0.62 miles per second) to finally enter Jupiter’s orbit.
For now, it’s a waiting game to see if JUICE comes our way.