The journey of the 5-tonne space probe towards the solar system’s largest planet will not start until 2022, but preparations for the mission have been underway for a long time. The Space Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN) and Creotech Instruments S.A. are also part of this ambitious project of the European Space Agency.
Ganymede, a favorite of the mythological Zeus, called Jupiter by the ancient Romans, served as cupbearer in Olympus, pouring nectar and ambrosia to the gods. The discovery of the moon named after this figure is credited to Galileo, who in the 17th century observed and described all 4 of Jupiter’s Largest Moons: Io, Europa, Callisto and Ganymede itself. It is the latter that is the main, though not only, goal of the JUICE mission (JUpiter ICy Moons Explorer), which is set to embark on a seven-year journey towards the Solar System’s most massive planet in 2022.
“Although more than 70 natural satellites orbiting the largest of the gas giants have been discovered so far, the four Galilean moons account for almost 99% of the mass orbiting Jupiter. Their surfaces contain ice, and scientists suspect that the conditions existing deeper beneath their surfaces, including the presence of liquid water, may be conducive to life,” said Jacek Kosiec, President of the Management Board of Creotech Instruments S.A.
How can there be liquid water can be so far from the Sun? Well, the mighty Jupiter forms a unique gravitational system with its star. Jupiter’s mass is so great that it distorts the gravity of its satellites. According to mathematical models developed by scientists, this causes its largest moons to stretch and contract. The resulting friction may “heat up” their cores to favorable temperatures. JUICE is on its way to test this theory.
With a price tag of nearly EUR 900m, the JUICE mission is one of the European Space Agency’s most ambitious current projects. JUICE is part of the ESA’s Cosmic Vision strategic scientific program, which seeks to answer the most pressing questions about our Universe, i.e. what are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life? How does the Solar System work? What are the fundamental physical laws of the Universe? How did the Universe originate, and what is it made of? The research objectives of the JUICE mission will help answer these questions. Traveling to other star systems in search of life is so far only possible through observation.
“JUICE focuses on collecting data to describe the physical conditions in this mini-planetary system that could lead to the formation of life-friendly environments,” said prof. Hanna Rothkaehl, PhD, from the Space Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN). “Ganymede will be given the most attention as, according to scientists, it is something of a natural laboratory for analyzing geological evolution and environments conducive to the emergence of life in icy conditions, and may serve as a site to set up future bases for the exploration of the Solar System. The probe will also study the geological structures and atmospheres of Europa, Callisto and Jupiter itself.”
According to the mission’s assumptions, studies in the Jupiter system will last at least three and a half years, with the journey itself taking twice as long.
The over 5-tonne spacecraft will be launched atop the massive Ariane 5 rocket. During its long flight towards Jupiter, it will perform several gravity assists, i.e. maneuvers involving using the gravity of a planet or other celestial body to increase the speed and change the direction of a spacecraft’s flight. En route to Jupiter, JUICE will use gravity assists from Venus and Mars and three times from Earth. The spacecraft’s complicated flight path, as it is not enough to merely reach the vicinity of Jupiter’s orbit, but arrive there at the right time (the Jovian year, i.e. the time it takes the planet to complete one revolution around Sun, is equivalent to almost 12 Earth years), is presented on an animation prepared by the European Space Agency.
The mission’s success will largely depend on whether the numerous entities involved in constructing the JUICE probe manage to design and manufacture all its components on time. Otherwise, the start will have to be postponed and some experiments will not be completed. The spacecraft must embark on its journey towards Jupiter within a specific, three-week time window in the spring of 2022 to take advantage of the conjunction of Venus, Mars and Earth. Airbus Defense and Space will be responsible for integrating the entire system, but the chain of suppliers includes many companies and scientific institutions from all over Europe.
Precise measurements and Polish participation
“We are currently reviewing our production processes to align them to the needs of JUICE. We are carrying out preparatory work commissioned by the European Space Agency,” said Paweł Kowalczyk, responsible for quality assurance at Creotech Instruments S.A.” The mission is very demanding as the probe, both while traversing the void of the Solar System and later, during its at least three and a half year stay in the Jovian system, will be exposed to extreme and changing thermal conditions, and high radiation, particularly dangerous to electronic components. It is absolutely crucial that all elements work flawlessly in such conditions. The success of the entire mission depends on it,”added Kowalczyk.
Creotech Instruments S.A. will be responsible for assembling electronic components for two of the ten research instruments on JUICE’s board. Tasked with the design and testing of these elements will be engineers and scientists from the Space Research Center of the Polish Academy of Sciences (PAN), to which Creotech is a subcontractor.
The first of these instruments is the SWI (Sub-millimeter Wave Instrument). It will investigate the thermal distribution, composition and dynamics of Jupiter’s stratosphere and troposphere, as well as the exospheres and surfaces of its icy moons. The SWI will use a 30 cm antenna. The second instrument is the RPWI (Radio & Plasma Wave Investigation). It consists of four smaller instruments to identify the properties of the electric and magnetic field in a wide range of frequencies and describe the extreme plasma environment in the Jupiter system.
Thanks to the RPWI, we will learn how Jupiter’s strong electric and magnetic fields affect its largest moons, Ganymede and Europa,” explained prof. Hanna Rothkaehl. “Jupiter’s magnetic field is 14 times stronger than the Earth’s, and in the entire Solar System it is only second to sunspots, the strongest natural source of electromagnetic radiation in our cosmic neighborhood,” she added.
Creotech Instruments S.A. will also delegate highly qualified specialized electric engineers to support CRISA, Airbus Defense & Space’s Spanish arm, in the integration of flight electronics for the JUICE probe. In this case, Creotech will not be working on scientific instruments but rather the platform on which the architecture of the entire JUICE probe will be based.
“JUICE is an extensive and complex mission, with its fixed started date presenting an additional challenge,” said Tomasz Zawistowski, responsible for supporting CRISA as Creotech Instruments’ Project Manager. “The probe will have to perform several gravity assists, maneuvers that require the proper alignment of planets in our solar system. Thus, the mission must launch in late spring 2022, meaning we have to work against the clock. That is why our Spanish colleagues, recognizing our competencies, reached out for the support of our specialists,” explained Zawistowski.
Deep waters of deep space
Being part of deep space exploration missions is prestigious for any company and attests to its unique competences. The bar for members of such complex projects is set very high, and the reliability demanded of the equipment they produce is many times higher than in the case of Earth-orbiting satellites.
Jacek Kosiec, President of Creotech Instruments S.A., pointed out that humanity had quite a good grasp of our immediate cosmic environment. We have the technology to ensure reliable communication with satellites in low Earth orbits. However, the exploration of deep space presents an entirely different set of challenges.
“The sheer fact that it will take almost 2 hours between the time JUICE sends a signal to Earth and receives a response poses huge challenges as the mission’s systems require a high degree of autonomy,” explained Jacek Kosiec. “All this in the vacuum of space, in extreme radiation and changing temperatures. That is why it is crucial that all components are reliable.”
Creotech Instruments S.A. is the only Polish company boasting experience in assembling electronics intended for deep space missions. The company was responsible for manufacturing components for the TGO (Trace Gas Orbiter) tasked with imaging the surface of Mars as part of the ExoMars mission. Participation in the JUICE mission marks another project in which Creotech can leverage its experience and competences that are unique on the Polish market.