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As part of the ESAJuice Social Space Event on 12 and 13 April 2023, I had the wonderful opportunity to visit Experimenta, Germany’s largest science centre, in Heilbronn together with almost 40 like-minded people. Experience creates knowledge, that is the philosophy of Experimenta. As an experience-oriented educational institution for all age groups, it is a place of knowledge, research, education and training.
In addition to very informative lectures on the mission objectives of JUCIE, we were offered a spectacular show in the Science Dome, a mixture of planetarium and theatre, as a very special preparation for the launch. We virtually experienced the launch of the probe – you really couldn’t get any closer – and travelled with it on its route to Jupiter and its moons, followed the flybys of Earth, Moon, Venus and then had Jupiter with its Galilean moons in front of our eyes – almost within reach. We visited each one and the great thing about this fascinating presentation was that we could see inside each moon, so to speak. With the data from the JUICE mission, the aim is to expand our knowledge of the Jupiter system and to verify and deepen assumptions that have been made from data available so far, and to gain new insights.
Is there life outside the Earth – perhaps even in our solar system? This question is on the minds of scientists all over the world. It is one of the main reasons for the JUICE mission, because researchers want to find out, among other things, whether there is life in the subterranean oceans of Jupiter’s moons.
We started the second day of the event with non-alcoholic juice at the European Space Operations Center (ESOC) in Darmstadt. The winner of the ESA Space Juice competition, Margherita Gagnoni, had mixed welcome drinks for us that morning.
Afterwards, we attended the detailed pre-launch media briefing by the Juice mission experts, questions were asked and interviews were conducted. The atmosphere was very positive, professional curiosity was everywhere in the media centre. In between, there was plenty of time for networking. Kate Underhill, Space Transportation Propulison Engineer at EAS, told me during a short conversation that she is excited before every launch, but is more concerned about everyone involved in such a complex mission and their pre-launch excitement. After all, on launch day, there are already about 8 years of planning and preparation and another 8 years of concrete implementation and construction of this mission including all instruments behind international teams. (Science and technology from Austria are also on board. ) When the probe reaches the Jupiter system in 8 years and will continue its research there for another 8 years, we are talking about at least 32 years of mission time, if everything goes according to plan. The launch is thus “only” a milestone on the long journey of the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer.
Even though the first launch attempt on 13 April had to be scrubbed a few minutes before liftoff due to lightning danger in Kourou, it was a great experience to look forward to the launch with about 400 people and to follow the show at ESOC. A day later, the weather cooperated and we were able to watch a picture-book launch.
The spacecraft is now taking a route like no other on its way to Jupiter. After its arrival in the Jupiter system, planned for July 2031, JUICE will explore the largest planet in our solar system and its icy moons Callisto, Europa and Ganymede in particular.
After the launch abort, we were given a wonderful tour of the ESOC site and presentations on other ESA research missions. We also dealt with the important topic of space debris – the ÖWF now has the second satellite in orbit, ADLER-2, which is searching for space debris. At the end of the second intensive day, we were allowed to visit the main control room of ESOC, a very special honour for all of us! Then, on 14 April, as the team waited in the ESOC control room for the signal from JUICE, I could very well imagine the crackling, exciting atmosphere of anticipation in the room.
A big thank you to the ESOC Communication Office team for organising this event and making it a great experience for us!
ESA Juice mission: https://www.esa.int/Science_Exploration/Space_Science/Juice
Author: Marlen Raab
This article is available in: German
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