A mission set to explore the distant, icy moons of Jupiter is go for launch.
This week, Airbus announced that the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE, at a stretch) mission is fully assembled in Toulouse, France, and is undergoing final testing before it’s shipped to French Guiana ahead of a planned launch in April.
The Jovian moons: Three of Jupiter’s four largest moons—Callisto, Ganymede, and Europa—are covered in thick layers of ice that may conceal expansive oceans. Europa has been a particularly popular target for planetary scientists hunting for life elsewhere in the solar system.
There has not yet been a science mission dedicated to studying the Jovian moons in detail since Galileo, which was destroyed in 2003. The New Horizons spacecraft made a flyby on its way to Pluto, and the Juno spacecraft has been performing flybys of the moons since completing its nominal mission studying Jupiter.
Info-gathering: To collect the amount of information scientists are hoping to scrape from an exploration of Jupiter’s icy moons, engineers had to equip the spacecraft with a slew of instruments. Those aboard JUICE include:
- Janus, a high-resolution visual telescope, as well as infrared and ultraviolet imagers
- A laser altimeter and radar sounder for mapping the moons’ surfaces and subsurfaces
- A magnetometer to explore the moons’ magnetic fields and their interactions with Jupiter
- A particle sensor
- A radio and plasma wave instrument
What’s next? The JUICE mission is currently expected to launch in April. Don’t expect any observations in the near future, though—the journey to the Jovian system will take more than seven years to complete. Once it arrives, JUICE will spend nearly four years performing flybys of the three icy moons and collecting as much data as possible.
Better together: JUICE isn’t the only planned mission dedicated to studying the Jovian moons. NASA ‘s Clipper mission, currently scheduled for launch in 2024, will trail JUICE to the king of planets and conduct a dedicated survey of Europa, searching for places beneath the icy crust that may be able to sustain life.