Europe’s Jupiter-bound spacecraft in search of hidden oceans ready for launch

© Lionel Bonaventure, AFP

Europe's JUICE spacecraft is all ready to embark on an eight-year odyssey through the Solar System to find out whether the oceans hidden under the surface of Jupiter's icy moons have the potential to host extraterrestrial life.

For now, the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) is in a white room of its manufacturer Airbus in the southwestern French city of Toulouse. But its days on this planet are numbered.

Soon the spacecraft will be put in a container, wings carefully folded away, ahead of travelling to Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana off the coast of South America in early February.

From there, one of Europe's most ambitious space missions ever is scheduled to launch in April.

The scientists and engineers in Toulouse who have spent years working on the project are clearly emotional at the thought of saying goodbye to what they call "the beast".

They finally unveiled the six-tonne spacecraft to journalists on Friday -- showing off its 10 scientific instruments, antenna 2.5 metres (eight feet) in diameter for communicating with Earth, and vast array of solar panels which still need to be tested one last time.

As a parting gift, a commemorative plaque was mounted on the back of the spacecraft in tribute to Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei, who was the first to spot Jupiter and its largest moons in 1610.

Volcanic Io and its icy siblings Europa, Ganymede and Callisto were "the first moons discovered outside of our own," said Cyril Cavel, the Airbus project manager for JUICE.


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