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Radar antenna on Europe’s JUICE probe to Jupiter stuck

European Space Agency officials revealed yesterday that the 52-foot radar antenna on its JUICE probe to Jupiter has failed to deploy as planned, and that they are attempting to shake what they think is a small pin free that is in the way.

Engineers suspect a tiny pin may be protruding. Flight controllers in Germany plan to fire the spacecraft’s engine in hopes of shaking the pin loose. If that doesn’t work, they said they have plenty of time to solve the problem.

Juice, short for Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, won’t reach the giant planet until 2031. It’s taking a roundabout path to get there, including gravity-assist flybys of Earth and our moon, and Venus.

The radar antenna is needed to peer beneath the icy crust of three Jupiter moons suspected of harboring underground oceans and possibly life, a major goal of the nearly $1.8 billion mission. Its targets include Callisto, Europa and Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system.

If this antenna cannot be freed, it will prevent JUICE from doing one of its prime missions.

Genesis cover

On Christmas Eve 1968 three Americans became the first humans to visit another world. What they did to celebrate was unexpected and profound, and will be remembered throughout all human history. Genesis: the Story of Apollo 8, Robert Zimmerman's classic history of humanity's first journey to another world, tells that story, and it is now available as both an ebook and an audiobook, both with a foreword by Valerie Anders and a new introduction by Robert Zimmerman.

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  • Lee S

    This is bad news indeed… ESA has a tiny budget compared to NASA, and this is a flagship mission, ( I believe it’s the first ESA mission to the outer planets.)

    Keep fingers crossed and hold out thumbs they literally shake off this problem, there is so much great science we will lose if they can’t. :-(

  • Andrew_W

    They should think about designing little cubesats equipped with robot arms and independent propulsion to launch attached to these spacecraft. It’s usually just a pin not coming out or a latch not locking in place.

  • Ray Van Dune

    That’s a great idea, Andrew. It seems like they just can’t quite accurately simulate the zero-G behavior of of large lightweight mechanisms in Earthbound test rigs!

  • Jeff Wright

    Robot arms can snag too—the problem is the cold

    There may be hope

    The best thing is to have a Cassini type dish.

  • Ray Van Dune

    The restrictions of boosters have placed a premium on ultra-lightweight, compact space probes. That’s why we see probes with frail structures like JWST that would collapse under normal Earth gravity, and have complex origami-like unfolding strategies to allow them to fit in a fairing.

    But if and when Starship goes into production, we should see more robust probes that devote more of their development cost to powerful scientific investigation and less to fitting the modest capabilities of their launchers!

  • GaryMike

    Build spacecraft in space.

    The testing is more realistic.

  • Concerned

    Our Galileo orbiter also failed to deploy its high gain antenna back in the 90s. Deja vu. The sky god Jupiter will not give up his secrets easily.

  • Richard M

    It is premature to panic, though: As the article notes, ESA’s team has, literally, eight years to work out a solution (if one is to be had) before JUICE even reaches Jupiter. If all else fails, perhaps the heat of the Venus gravity assist may be used to advantage to shake it loose?

    Worst case, RIME is a bust, and that would suck because it is one of the more important instruments JUICE has. But it is still just one of 11 main science instruments; and Europa Clipper will have the capability to pick up the subsurface radar mapping duties when it arrives around the Galilean moons around the same time.

  • Sayomara

    Concerned, I had the same thought and it did impact the data Galileo was able to send back since it was able to send so little at a time. They made it work but never as well as it should have. I want to say the same thing happened to one of the asteroid missions a few years ago but I don’t remember which one.

  • M Puckett

    If only there was a low-cost way to have an Astronaut handy in earth orbit to manually fix things like this before they do their final burn.

    Or even better, assemble the probe in LEO and then send it once it passes checkout.

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