EDITOR’S NOTE: Updated April 13 after scrub.
These photos and a time lapse video from the European Space Agency chronicle the final preparations for launch of the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, or JUICE, spacecraft from the Guiana Space Center on the second-to-last Ariane 5 rocket.
Built by Airbus, the 13,142-pound (5,961-kilogram) JUICE spacecraft was installed on top of the Ariane 5 rocket inside the final assembly building in Kourou, French Guiana, on April 1. The mating of the spacecraft with the Ariane 5 rocket completed nearly two months of launch campaign preparations on the payload, which arrived in French Guiana on Feb. 9 with a trans-Atlantic flight on an Antonov cargo plane from Europe.
During the launch campaign, technicians loaded more than 3.5 metric tons of hydrazine and nitrogen tetroxide propellants into the JUICE spacecraft. The toxic fuel and oxidizer will feed thrusters and JUICE’s main engine for critical burns to guide it on its journey to Jupiter, including the make-or-break maneuver to enter orbit around the gas giant in 2031, then to enter orbit around the moon Ganymede four years later.
On April 4, the rocket’s Swiss-made payload shroud was lowered over the spacecraft. The fairing will protect the JUICE spacecraft during final launch preparations and during the first three minutes of the flight through the dense lower layers of the atmosphere.
The time lapse video below, produced by ESA, shows the major milestones of the launch campaign.
📽️ From integration to rollout to the launch pad, here’s what @ariane5 #VA260 and #ESAJuice have been up to during the past two days.#DestinationJupiter #ExploreFarther pic.twitter.com/9ncreBfwHq
— ESA’s Juice mission (@ESA_JUICE) April 13, 2023
On April 11, two days before the scheduled launch, the 180-foot-tall (54.8-meter) Ariane 5 rocket was tugged the 1.7-mile (2.7-kilometer) distance from the final assembly building to the ELA-3 launch zone at the Guiana Space Center. A 540-horsepower Titan truck towed the rocket and its mobile launch table along rail tracks to reach the launch pad.
Once the rocket arrived at the pad, technicians connected the launch table to the ground power supply and propellant lines that will feed fuel into the two-stage Ariane 5 during Wednesday’s countdown.
Liftoff with the JUICE spacecraft to begin an eight-year flight to Jupiter is set for 9:14 a.m. local time (8:14 a.m. EDT; 1214 UTC GMT) Friday, April 14. A launch attempt Thursday, April 13, was scrubbed due to the risk of lightning. The mission has an instantaneous launch window each day through April 25.
The launch will be the penultimate flight of an Ariane 5 rocket, and the 116th Ariane 5 mission since the European launcher debuted in 1996. It will also mark Arianespace’s first flight of 2023, and 344th mission since 1979.
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