JUICE spacecraft overcomes antenna problem for Jupiter

The European Space Agency’s JUICE spacecraft is now fully deployed to study Jupiter’s icy moons. The Jupiter IC Moons Explorer spacecraft, which launched in April, has spent the past six weeks undergoing a complex and sometimes challenging deployment process to emerge into its final form for the journey to Jupiter.

Larger spacecraft like the Juice must be folded up during launch so they can fit into the nose of the launch vehicle — in this case, the Ariane 5 rocket. Once the spacecraft is deployed from the rocket, it begins the process of expanding as it travels through space.

An artist’s rendering of the Juice spaceship was fully utilized. ESA (Credit: ATG Medialab)

The first components used were the solar panels, which expanded to a massive 27 meters across shortly after launch. They provide energy for travel and future scientific work. A communications antenna called a medium-gain antenna was also used shortly after launch.

The challenge came from efforts to deploy a second antenna called the Radar for IC Moons Exploration (RIME) antenna. At 16 meters long, this antenna is for a radar instrument that lies beneath the surface of icy moons. It was supposed to be deployed five days after launch, but the antenna got stuck on the top of the spacecraft and couldn’t be released from its mounting bracket.

The Juice spacecraft has small, low-resolution surveillance cameras, so engineers were able to observe the antenna and see that the first section of the antenna was exposed, but not the other sections. The cameras showed few signs of movement, however, there was hope. The images indicated that a stuck pin was holding the antenna sections in place, so the team fired juice thrusters to shake the entire spacecraft. They tried to maneuver the spacecraft into sunlight, hoping it would loosen the pin.

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None of those approaches fixed the problem, so after several weeks, the team decided on a more drastic intervention, firing a device into the stuck bracket called a non-explosive actuator. This component is designed to release a bracket by providing a shock. This finally allowed the last sections of the antenna to unfold and lock into place.

Other components, such as the magnetometer mount and more antennas, were deployed without issue, and last week ESA announced that the juice was fully deployed as planned. With the spacecraft in configuration, the team is ready to test its instruments as it prepares for its first planetary mission in 2024.

„It’s been an exhausting, but very exciting six weeks,” Angela Dietz, the mission’s deputy spacecraft operations manager, said in a statement. Report. „We faced and are overcoming many challenges to get the extract into the right shape to get the best science possible on the journey to Jupiter.”

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