The European Space Agency’s (ESA) ground-breaking JUICE space mission is set to depart on April 13 to explore our solar system’s largest planet, Jupiter, as well as its icy moons Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. The scientific team that designed and implements the mission includes the Academy of Athens led by its vice-president, Stamatis Krimizis, and the Democritus University of Thrace, led by its associate professor, Theodoros Sarris.

The mission is named “Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer” (“Explorer of the frozen moons of Jupiter”) and gathers many firsts. It is the first spacecraft to ever orbit a moon other than our own, Ganymede, which is Jupiter’s largest moon. It will also be the first spacecraft to use Moon-Earth gravity assist to save fuel and the first to change orbit from another planet to one of its moons (Jupiter to Ganymede).

The launch will take place on April 13 from French Guiana and will be the last ESA mission to launch on an Ariane 5 rocket, before taking over from Ariane 6. At the same time, scientists will be at the European Space Operations Center in Germany to monitor the launch.

The mission is the first large-scale mission of ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 programme, which aims to answer two fundamental questions: what are the conditions for the formation of planets and the emergence of life, and how did our Solar System evolve System. NASA, the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency and the Israel Space Agency are also contributing to the mission.

JUICE is expected to reach the gas giant Jupiter in eight years to make detailed observations of it. It will then make 35 close passes of the three moons over three years, before finally reaching Ganymede, the largest moon in our solar system, around which it is scheduled to enter orbit in December 2034.

The mission will deeply explore the complex environment of Jupiter, the largest planet in our Solar System, study its evolution and origin, and assess the conditions inside its icy moons, where vast oceans of water likely exist. It will also seek an answer to the question of whether there were or are traces of primitive life on Jupiter’s moons. Europa and Ganymede in particular are believed to contain subsurface oceans beneath their icy surface, which could contain more water than Earth’s oceans, and the JUICE mission will study them to detect whether any life forms could occur in different environments.

The Greek scientific team

The spacecraft contains ten state-of-the-art instruments developed by scientific teams from 23 countries, as well as large solar panels that will power it. Along the way, it will face many dangers: particle radiation that can destroy the electronic brain or other critical subsystems and instruments of the spacecraft, extreme temperatures and the extremely dynamic and inhospitable environment of Jupiter.

A Greek scientific team also participates in the JUICE mission, which took part in the design of one of JUICE’s instruments, the Particle Environment Package (PEP).

The team includes the Academy of Athens, headed by its vice-president and president of the International Academy of Astronautics, academician Stamatis Krimizis, who had also taken part in the historic Galileo mission, the first to closely study the giant system of Jupiter, and the Democritus University Thrace, led by the associate professor of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering, Theodoros Sarris.

PEP’s goal is to investigate the three-dimensional structure of Jupiter’s plasma disk and map how the intense plasma flow bombards the surfaces of its moons. It will also, for the first time, sample the moons’ tenuous atmospheres in order to understand how materials are released above and just below the surface.

As the deputy professor of the Democritus University of Thrace, Theodoros Sarris, explains to APE-MBE, the preparation of the mission started about 15 years ago and ten years ago Democritus joined the scientific team. Over the years the team has been experimenting, analyzing and simulating the measurements, while also building models of particle motion in Jupiter’s magnetosphere for mission design and data analysis.

mission of JUPITER

The aim of the experiments that the Greek team will conduct with PEP after the arrival of JUICE, Mr. Sarris points out, “is to study the energetic particles in the environment of Jupiter and its moons, in order to see where they come from, how they are distributed and how they get trapped inside Jupiter’s magnetic field. Also, it is very interesting to see the similarities and differences between Jupiter and Earth in terms of particle acceleration mechanisms. Comparative studies of different systems are among the most interesting things in space physics.”

One of the questions the mission aspires to answer is whether the conditions on Jupiter and its moons are such as to favor the existence of any form of life, and Mr. Sarris reminds APE-MPE that the magnetic field works on the planets “like a shield protection”, which protects them from very high energy particles and in the case of the Earth is one of the special elements “that allowed life to exist”.

The Laboratory of Electromagnetic Theory of the Department of Electrical and Computer Engineering of Democritus University has a long experience in the study of high energy particles, with analysis of measurements and participation in various missions (Ulysses, Interball, ACE, Cluster and others) and in space technology with the construction electronic components and experiments for space. It had also built the DUTHSat GR-01 satellite, which in 2017 was launched along with 27 other microsatellites into Space to study the thermosphere, the uppermost layer of the Earth’s atmosphere.