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Weather forces European Space Agency to delay launch of Jupiter Icy Moons mission

The European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer liftoff at the agency's Centre Spatial Guyanais launch facility in Kourou, French Guiana, was delayed Thursday due to lightning. Photo courtesy of European Space Agency.
1 of 3 | The European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer liftoff at the agency's Centre Spatial Guyanais launch facility in Kourou, French Guiana, was delayed Thursday due to lightning. Photo courtesy of European Space Agency.

April 13 (UPI) -- The launch of the European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer from French Guiana was aborted Thursday minutes before liftoff due to the risk of lightning strikes.

The 12-year mission to discover if three of the giant gas planet's moons have the right conditions for life was scheduled to lift off at 8:15 a.m. EDT on Thursday but will now target a launch on Friday at 08:14 a.m. EDT.

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"Today's Flight VA260 has been delayed due to weather condition [risk of lightning] at the scheduled liftoff time from Europe's Spaceport in French Guiana, ESA said in a Twitter post.

"The Ariane 5 launch vehicle and its passenger JUICE are in stable and safe condition."

The mission, abbreviated as JUICE, will initially head in the opposite direction of Jupiter in order to take advantage of the slingshot effect of passing back around Earth, then Venus and two further Earth flybys to help propel it on its 366 million-mile journey.

When the six-ton explorer reaches the Jovian system in 2031 it will make a total of 35 flybys of the Ganymede, Callisto and Europa moons, passing within 250 miles of the surface.

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JUICE will use remote sensing geophysical and in-built instruments including a NASA-built ultraviolet imaging spectrograph to make detailed observations of the moons which are believed to have subterranean oceans of water, the most important of four inputs required for life.

The mission hopes to establish if any of the moons possess the other three prerequisites -- some type of nutrients, a source of energy and stability over a period long enough for life to develop.

"The main goal is to understand whether there are habitable environments among those icy moons," said Juice project scientist Olivier Witasse, said in a press briefing earlier this month. "We will characterize in particular the liquid water oceans which are inside the icy moons."

Japan's JAXA space agency and the Israel Space Agency also provided instruments to the mission.

JUICE will go into orbit around Ganymede in late 2034 where it will stay until the end of the mission, planned for September 2035, when the spacecraft will be crashed into the surface of the moon.

NASA is scheduled to launch its own Jupiter moons mission in October 2024. The Europa Clipper mission is set to reach the Jovian in 2030, ahead of Juice, where it will fly by Europa dozens of times in an effort to understand the icy moon's potential for life.

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Witasse described the overlap of the two missions as "very fantastic."

"The two missions are very complementary," meaning joint observations were a real possibility, he explained.

"One example is planned flybys of Europa by the two spacecraft just four hours apart."

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