10% fuel in 43 minutes: JUICE probe performed key manoeuvre

The JUICE spacecraft performed one of the largest and most important manoeuvres during its entire mission. Its success will ensure the arrival to Jupiter in 2031. 

On the way to Jupiter

The JUICE mission was launched in April 2023. Its target is the three largest icy moons of Jupiter (Europa, Ganymede and Callisto), under the surfaces of which oceans can hide.

The JUICE spacecraft in the artist’s image. Source: ESA/Lightcurve Films/R. Andres

Since the capabilities of the Ariane 5 rocket were not enough to send JUICE directly to Jupiter, the spacecraft was transferred to a complex trajectory involving several gravitational manoeuvres. The first of them will take place in August next year, when the probe will fly over the Moon and Earth. The Earth messenger will use their gravity to accelerate. Then it will fly over Venus, and then return to our planet twice more. The final gravity manoeuvre near the Earth will take place in January 2029. It will finally let the spacecraft set a course for Jupiter.

The last activation of the main engine until 2031

The success of the whole scheme described above depends on accuracy. JUICE must meet the Moon and the Earth at a strictly defined time and a strictly defined point, moving at a strictly defined speed. Mission specialists activated the main engine of the vehicle for 43 minutes on November 17 to ensure this meeting. The manoeuvre provided a change in the speed of JUICE by 200 m/s, which cost 363 kg of fuel. This is about 10% of its total stock of 3,650 kg. For comparison, since its launch, JUICE has consumed a total of 10 kg of fuel. At the same time, the main expenses fell on initially unplanned manoeuvres that allowed it to rescue the antenna of its radar.

The flight plan of the JUICE probe. Source: ESA

In the coming days, mission specialists will analyse data on the new JUICE orbit, after which they will perform a second, much more modest course correction. Dividing the manoeuvre into two parts will allow ESA to use the second launch of the main engine to eliminate all the inaccuracies of the first.

If all goes well, the next time JUICE activates its main power plant eight years later, when it reaches Jupiter. All course corrections up to this point will be carried out using low-power auxiliary engines. This tactic will reduce fuel consumption. Most of it will be spent in April 2031 during a manoeuvre that will allow JUICE to enter orbit around Jupiter. The spacecraft is supposed to reduce its speed by 1 km/s to do this.

According to https://www.esa.int

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