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ESA's 'Jupiter Icy Moons' probe embarks on 8-year voyage

The European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, known as JUICE, lifted off from France on Friday, embarking on a eight-year journey to Jupiter to discover if three of the giant gas planet's moons have the right conditions for life. Photo courtesy of European Space Agency
The European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, known as JUICE, lifted off from France on Friday, embarking on a eight-year journey to Jupiter to discover if three of the giant gas planet's moons have the right conditions for life. Photo courtesy of European Space Agency

April 14 (UPI) -- The European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer successfully blasted off atop an Ariane 5 rocket from French Guiana on Friday, 24 hours after its planned launch was aborted at the last minute due to the risk of lightning strikes.

JUICE's eight-year journey to discover if three of the giant gas planet's moons have the right conditions for life lifted off from ESA's Centre Spatial Guyanais launch complex at 08:15 a.m. EDT.

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"Ariane 5 has left the pad for ESA's JUICE mission, starting an eight-year journey to Jupiter and its moons!" the agency announced in a Twitter post.

Stage separation and upper engine ignition were also successful and the explorer is headed into orbit, ESA said.

The space agency confirmed it received a signal from JUICE shortly after 9 a.m. EDT

"The spacecraft has said its first words from its new home in space, captured by your New Norcia ground station in Western Australia," ESA operations said in a tweet.

The next step in the mission was the Solar Array Deployment, expected later Friday morning.

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"ESA with its international partners is on its way to Jupiter," ESA Director-General Josef Aschabacher said in a statement. "Juice's spectacular launch carries with it the vision and ambition of those who conceived the mission decades ago, the skill and passion of everyone who has built this incredible machine, the drive of our flight operations team and the curiosity of the global science community."

The mission will make several flybys of Earth and Venus before 2029 to benefit from the slingshot effect of passing around large planets before the 6-ton explorer finally leaves the vicinity to embark on its 366 million-mile journey.

JUICE will perform a total of 35 flybys of Jupiter's Ganymede, Callisto and Europa moons, which previous missions have found to have liquid water oceans beneath their frozen surfaces.

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

The mission will end in 2035 when the explorer will be crashed into the surface of Ganymede.

A complimentary NASA mission next year -- which will actually arrive in the Jovian system in 2030 before JUICE does -- will focus on Europa with the two spacecraft working within touching distance of each other.

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