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JUICE mission. Technical problems with a key instrument

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The JUICE probe sent by the European Space Agency to Jupiter’s icy moons is experiencing technical difficulties. One of the key measurement instruments failed to deploy properly after launch. Engineers are now figuring out how to fix the embarrassing glitch.

Two weeks ago the JUICE mission has begun European Space Agency (ESA). The probe’s goal is to study Jupiter and its icy moons more closely. As the agency reported on Friday, the mission had already encountered the first technical problems.

The fault affects RIME’s 16-meter radar antenna, which has only one-third deployed so far. Engineers suspect that the cause of the problem may be a small pin that got stuck during launch. If true, the release of the radar is “a matter of just a few millimeters”, ESA said.

An essential element

The RIME radar is essential to peering beneath the icy crust of Jupiter’s moons. Scientists suspect that there are oceans beneath it. This gigantic, advanced measuring instrument was supposed to look 9 kilometers deep under the thick, icy shells of celestial bodies.

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Flight controllers in Germany plan to fire the spacecraft’s motor in the hope that it will shake the craft and free a jammed pin. The agency reassures that if it doesn’t work, engineers have plenty of time to fix the problem. ESA also said that the rest of the mission is progressing as planned. The radio antenna, solar panels and a 10.6-metre boom for measuring the magnetic field are already in place.

RIME antenna model ESA–M. Cowan

Get to know the giant better

The purpose of the JUICE mission is to study Jupiter and its three natural satellites. Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, is larger than the planet Mercury and is the only moon in our planetary system to have its own magnetic field. Callisto is a remnant of Jupiter’s “youth”, and Europa is one of the places in the solar system where the conditions can sustain life.

The spacecraft will also study Jupiter’s surroundings, including the remaining moons. Scientists will want to find out how the gas giant’s upper atmosphere is changing, as well as why the Great Red Spot is shrinking. The purpose of the research will also be northern lights Jupiter and its rings.


Main photo source: ESA–M. Cowan

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