Why Is Juice Taking Sooo Long? Straight Lines in Space Are a Massive Waste of Energy

Illustration of JUICE Spacecraft at Jupiter

Illustration of the JUICE spacecraft at Jupiter. Juice’s mission to Jupiter is a testomony to intricate area navigation, leveraging gravity assists for environment friendly journey. Aiming for a 2031 arrival, it seeks to discover Jupiter’s moons and unveil cosmic secrets and techniques. Credit score: ESA

Juice: Why’s It Taking Sooo Lengthy

At their closest level in orbit, Earth and Jupiter are separated by virtually 600 million kilometers (375 million miles). On the time of writing, 5 months after launch, Juice has already traveled 370 million kilometers (230 million miles), but in time it’s solely 5% of the best way there. Why is it taking sooo lengthy?

The reply is dependent upon quite a lot of elements that flight dynamics consultants at ESA’s Mission Management know effectively, from the quantity of gasoline used to the facility of the rocket, the mass of a spacecraft, and the geometry of the planets.

Based mostly on this, ESA’s flight dynamics consultants design a route. The world of orbital mechanics is a counterintuitive place, however with a little bit of persistence and a number of planning, it permits us to do quite a lot of science with just a bit gasoline, as we’ll clarify.

Jupiter and Europa Hubble 2020

This picture of Jupiter was taken by NASA’s Hubble Area Telescope on August 25, 2020. It was captured when the planet was 406 million miles from Earth. Credit score: NASA, ESA, STScI, A. Simon (Goddard Area Flight Middle), M.H. Wong (College of California, Berkeley), and the OPAL workforce

Straight Traces in Area? Large Waste of Power

Monitor the movement of planets and moons and stars and galaxies, and also you’ll see they’re at all times in movement round one other object. When a mission launches, it doesn’t leap from a nonetheless Earth however off a planet zooming at about 30 km/s across the Solar.

As such, a spacecraft launched from Earth already has quite a lot of ‘orbital vitality’ – the one unit that issues when figuring out the dimensions of an orbit round a central physique. Simply after launch, a spacecraft is in kind of the identical orbit as our planet is across the Solar.

To interrupt free from this orbit and fly within the shortest doable straight line from Earth to Jupiter, would wish an enormous rocket and a number of gasoline. However it may be executed. The subsequent downside is, that you just’d then want much more gasoline to brake and go into orbit round Jupiter and never zip proper previous it.

Propulsion Orbits Traveling Through Space

The launch of a spacecraft is the beginning of a brand new mission and the one means to succeed in the depths of the Photo voltaic System. With reusable rockets changing into a actuality, what’s ESA doing to advance propulsion expertise and make it greener? Credit score: ESA/S. Berna

Focusing on Empty Area

Jupiter and Earth are at all times transferring with respect to one another. At their farthest aside, on reverse sides of the Solar, they’re separated by 968 million kilometers (601 million miles). The shortest distance between the 2 planets is when Earth and Jupiter are on the identical facet of the Solar with slightly below 600 million kilometers (375 million miles) between them. However they’re on this place only for a second earlier than the gap grows once more, by no means remaining at a continuing distance.

The planets are all transferring at completely different charges of their orbits across the Solar. Think about throwing a ball at a transferring goal from a transferring automobile. Engineers should calculate the perfect time to make the bounce on a round path from Earth’s orbit to the place Jupiter might be when the spacecraft arrives, not the place it’s when the spacecraft leaves Earth.

So, assuming we now have essentially the most highly effective launcher accessible, and we launch on the shortest trajectory on the proper time when the planets are aligned accurately, how lengthy would it not take?

Early area missions, such because the Voyager and Pioneer probes, made the journey in lower than two years, and the quickest any object has traveled to Jupiter was the New Horizons mission. Launched on January 19, 2006, New Horizons made its closest method to Jupiter on February 28, 2007, taking slightly over a 12 months to succeed in the planet. All these missions continued onwards, wonderful examples of figuring out how lengthy it takes for a Jupiter flyby on the best way to some place else.


This animation depicts Juice’s journey to Jupiter and highlights from its foreseen tour of the enormous planet and its massive ocean-bearing moons. It depicts Juice’s journey from leaving Earth’s floor in a launch window of April 5–25, 2023, and performing a number of gravity help flybys within the interior Photo voltaic System, to arrival at Jupiter (July 2031), flybys of the Jovian moons Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede, orbital insertion at Ganymede (December 2034), and eventual influence on this moon’s floor (late 2035). Credit score: ESA/Lightcurve Movies/R. Andres

The Longer the Keep, the Slower the Strategy

To get into orbit across the enormous planet to review it from all sides and over time, even perhaps get into orbit round one in all its moons – a Juice ‘first’ – you’ll have to lose some vitality. This ‘deceleration’ would require a number of gasoline for a big orbit insertion maneuver. In the event you don’t need to launch with huge quantities of gasoline, you are taking the scenic route, with a switch period of two.5 years.

That is the place we see the mass of the spacecraft as a vital consider figuring out the time it takes to get anyplace. Engineers want to manage the spacecraft’s mass, balancing the quantity of gasoline with the devices it wants to hold to finish its mission. The extra mass the spacecraft has, the extra gasoline it wants to hold, which will increase its weight and makes it harder to launch.

Which Rocket to Space

Groups at Mission Management match the wants of ESA missions with the proper rocket. The selection of rocket relies upon totally on the mass of the payload and the place it must go. The farther from Earth a spacecraft must be lifted, and the extra large it’s, the extra gasoline that’s wanted. Credit score: ESA

And that is the place the launching rocket’s efficiency is available in. The spacecraft must be launched with adequate velocity to flee Earth’s gravity and be flung on its approach to the outer Photo voltaic System. The higher the shove, the simpler the journey.

Juice is likely one of the heaviest interplanetary probes ever launched, at simply over 6000 kg, with the biggest suite of scientific devices ever flown to Jupiter. Even the huge enhance from the Ariane 5 heavy-lift rocket wasn’t sufficient to ship Juice straight there in a few years.

Subsequently, missions akin to Juice and Europa Clipper, or like Galileo and Juno previously, must make use of ‘gravity-assist’ or ‘flyby’ maneuvers to choose up additional velocity. The extra highly effective the rocket, the shorter the switch.

Buying and selling Power With the Photo voltaic System

Pluto, on the fringe of the Photo voltaic System, travels in a a lot bigger orbit than Mercury, the innermost planet. Though Pluto strikes extra slowly with respect to the Solar, its orbital vitality is much, far higher than Mercury’s.

To get a spacecraft into orbit round one other planet, we should match its orbital vitality. When BepiColombo was launched, its orbital vitality was the identical as Earth’s. It needed to lose vitality to fall nearer to the middle of the Photo voltaic System and did so by shedding extra orbital vitality by flying near neighboring planets.

Juice's Europa Flyby

Through the tour of the Jovian system, Juice will make two flybys of Europa, which has robust proof for an ocean of liquid water underneath its icy shell. Juice will take a look at the moon’s lively zones, its floor composition, and geology, seek for pockets of liquid water underneath the floor, and research the plasma atmosphere round Europa. Credit score: ESA

The identical works in reverse to voyage to the outer Photo voltaic System. To get into a bigger orbit, farther from the Solar, Juice is on a path that may let it steal orbital vitality from Earth, Venus, and Mars.

Relying on the relative path of movement of the planet and the spacecraft, a gravity help can both velocity up, decelerate, or change the path of the mission. (The spacecraft additionally deflects the planet, however by such a miniscule quantity as to be insignificant. Nonetheless, Newton’s third legislation of movement has been preserved: ‘To each motion, there’s an equal and reverse response’.)

Juice will use a collection of flybys of Earth, the Earth-Moon system, and Venus to set it heading in the right direction for its July 2031 rendezvous within the Jovian system.

Juice ESA Mission Control

For months, engineers have been flying a pretend Juice spacecraft that retains going flawed. In simply a few weeks, they fly the true factor. What they’re doing now, helps guarantee this daring mission’s success. Credit score: ESA

Orbit on a Knife’s Edge

Essentially the most difficult half for the ESA’s flight management workforce comes when Juice lastly arrives at Jupiter in 2031 and through its tour of Jupiter’s planetary system.

Juice’s difficult trajectory includes a number of gravity assists on the best way to Jupiter – together with the primary ever Lunar-Earth flyby – and, as soon as there, a powerful 35 flybys of its Galilean moons Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. The ultimate focus might be on Ganymede, making Juice the primary spacecraft ever to orbit a moon apart from our personal.

The only most necessary maneuver that groups at ESA’s mission management in Germany will oversee, would be the slowing down of Juice by about 1 km/s solely 13 hours after a Ganymede gravity help, and ‘taking the exit’ to enter the Jupiter system, inserting the spacecraft into orbit across the gasoline large.


Watch the complete sequence of Juice’s journey to, and tour of, Jupiter and its icy moons. Juice will begin its science mission about six months previous to coming into orbit round Jupiter in 2031, making observations because it approaches its vacation spot. It makes a primary flyby of Ganymede a couple of hours earlier than Jupiter orbit insertion. As soon as within the Jovian system and in orbit round Jupiter, a collection of additional gravity-assist flybys Ganymede will assist Juice cut back its orbital vitality as wanted. Credit score: ESA/Lightcurve Movies/R. Andres

Entering into orbit round one other celestial physique is tough. A spacecraft should method with the proper velocity, from a exact angle, then execute a significant, huge maneuver at simply the best second, in a selected path, and of the proper dimension.

Approaching too quick or gradual, too shallow or steep, or maneuvering on the flawed time, with the flawed quantity or path, and also you’re misplaced in area. Otherwise you’re far sufficient off monitor that it’s going to take loads – maybe an excessive amount of – gasoline to appropriate your path.

Juice will get near Jupiter’s moons, buying and selling vitality with them that they’ve held onto for billions of years, to get a view of those environments like by no means earlier than. Might there be life underneath the frozen oceans of Ganymede, Callisto, or Europa? What can we be taught concerning the formation of planets and moons all through the Universe? By the marvel of flight dynamics, by buying and selling vitality with the Universe, we are going to quickly(ish) discover out.

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