Juice spacecraft gears up for first ever Earth-moon gravity …

The European Space Agency (ESA)’s Juice mission is headed toward Jupiter, but it’s not traveling in a straight line. Instead, like most Solar System missions, the spacecraft uses the gravity of other planets to steer its path.

But Juice will perform an unusual maneuver next year, performing the first gravity-assist flight around both the Earth and the Moon. This week, the spacecraft took its longest walk ever to get into position ahead of the first flight of its kind in 2024.

Artist's impression of ESA's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JuICE) approaching Earth.
Artist’s impression of ESA’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JuICE) approaching Earth. ESA/Lightcurve Films/R. Andres

On November 17, the Juice spacecraft burned 10% of its fuel in a 43-minute-long maneuver, adjusting its trajectory so it would prepare for an encounter with Earth and the Moon next year. The spacecraft will perform the second part of this maneuver that will bring it back toward Earth in August, first passing by the Moon and then passing by Earth.

Gravity assist would be even more effective by using the gravity of these two bodies. Spacecraft often use Earth flybys to gain momentum, but this is the first time a spacecraft will also use the Moon.

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“This was the first part of a two-part maneuver to get Juice on the right trajectory for an encounter with Earth and the Moon next summer. This first burn did 95% of the work, changing the juice’s velocity by about 200 m/s, Julia Schwartz, a flight dynamics engineer at ESA’s ESOC mission control center, said in a statement.

“Juice is one of the heaviest interplanetary spacecraft ever launched, with a total mass of about 6000 kilograms, so it requires a lot of force and a lot of fuel to get there. In a few weeks, once we’ve analyzed Juice’s new orbit, we’ll complete a second, much smaller part of the maneuver. Dividing the maneuver into two parts allows us to use the second firing of the engine to correct any inaccuracies of the first.

Igniting a spacecraft’s main engine takes a lot of fuel, so the hope is that after the second part of the maneuver, Juice won’t need to ignite its main engine again unless it has to slow down. And do not have to enter the orbit of Jupiter. Small adjustments along the way will be made with its smaller thrusters, which are a more efficient use of precious fuel.

After the Earth-Moon flyby, the spacecraft’s path includes several other flybys of Earth and Venus, gradually increasing its energy to send it away from the Sun’s gravity and toward Jupiter.

Juice is scheduled to reach Jupiter in 2031, and you wonder where Juice is now? But you can follow its journey. Web Page.

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