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The University of Liège involved in the JUICE space mission


 Launched by an Ariane 5 rocket, the European Space Agency's JUICE probe was launched from Kourou in French Guiana. This is an important new space mission to study Jupiter and its moons, to which researchers from the University of Liège and the Centre Spatial de Liège (CSL) have made and will continue to make a significant contribution.

Started in 2012, ESA's JUICE (Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer) mission has just taken off. On board are ten state-of-the-art instruments that will observe and study the largest planet in our solar system and three of its moons: Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. JUICE will carry out an eight-year mission with flybys of Earth and Venus, arriving around Jupiter in 2031. The mission will characterise Jupiter's three oceanic moons as possible planetary objects and habitats, explore Jupiter's complex environment in depth, and study the Jupiter system as a whole as the archetypal gas giant of the universe. The probe will make 35 flybys of the three moons orbiting Jupiter, before changing orbit to Ganymede.

The data sent by the probe will be analysed by groups of scientists including researchers from the University of Liege. "The Laboratory of Atmospheric and Planetary Physics is involved in the UVS instrument, an ultraviolet spectrograph that will observe the aurora of the planet and its three moons and that can also analyse the surface of these satellites," explains Bertrand Bonfond, an astrophysicist at the ULiège. We are also involved in the infrared spectrograph that will allow us to observe the atmospheres and surface structures of Jupiter and its moons. So, yes, we are looking forward to seeing all this!

The University of Liege is also one of the many institutions that contributed to the success of the mission. The Centre Spatial de Liège (CSL) carried out radiation tests of the MAJIS and UVS instruments, respectively infrared for CNES and ultraviolet for NASA. The radiation environment of this mission is very difficult," explains Christophe Grodent, engineer and commercial manager at CSL. NASA and CNES wanted to make sure that their instruments would perform optimally in this very harsh environment. CSL also tested the probe's solar panels. "A validation of the ten flight panels (between -233°C and + 126°C) was carried out in the new WRTF (Wide Range Temperature Facility) developed exclusively for this project at the Liège Space Centre. Thermal cycles in a global temperature range of -240°C to 125°C were applied to each of the panels to ensure their proper functioning once the final destination is reached.

There are still many unknowns about the chemistry of the planet and its moons," explains Emmanuelle Javaux, biologist and astrobiology specialist, "and that is why JUICE is a fascinating mission because we will be able to discover environments that are completely different from what we know and where it is possible that the conditions are right for life to appear. And if we discover this richer chemistry, which we don't know how to explain in any other way, then it opens up the prospect of other environments outside our solar system.

JUICE is an ESA-led mission with contributions from NASA, JAXA (Japanese space agency) and the Israeli Space Agency. Above all, it is the first large-scale mission of ESA's Cosmic Vision programme.

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