Mission to Jupiter (illustration)
Mission to Jupiter (illustration)Flash 90

Sometime in the year 2030, if all goes according to plan, research groups around the world will begin receiving data from above Jupiter – including from a made-in-Israel device.

The device, as well as others made elsewhere around in the world, will take off in the year 2022 aboard the JUICE - JUpiter ICy satellite Explorer – spacecraft. The mission is being planned by the European Space Agency to investigate the properties of the Solar System’s largest planet and several of its moons. Among other things, the JUICE research groups hope to discover whether the necessary conditions for life exist anywhere in the vicinity of the planet.

The JUICE spacecraft will carry the most powerful remote sensing, geophysical, and in situ payload complement ever flown to the outer Solar System. This includes a total of 11 international scientific experiments to study the giant planet and its large ocean-bearing moons.

"This is the first time that an Israeli-built device will be carried beyond the Earth’s orbit,"  according to Dr. Yochai Kaspi of the Earth and Planetary Sciences Department of Weizmann Institute. He is the principle investigator on the Israeli JUICE team. The project is part of the University of Rome's 3GM (Gravity & Geophysics of Jupiter and Galilean Moons) experiment.

The Israeli contribution is an atomic clock that will measure tiny vacillations in a radio beam provided by the Italian team. This clock must be so accurate that it may not lose even a second in 100,000 years. Kaspi therefore turned to the Israeli firm AccuBeat, which manufactures clocks used in high-tech aircraft, among other things. AccuBeat engineers, together with Kaspi and his team, including Dr. Eli Galanti and Dr. Marzia Parisi, have spent the past two years in research and development of a device that will not only meet the strict demands of the experiment, but will also survive the eight-year trip to Jupiter and will function in far-off outer space.

The designers were recently informed that their design has been approved for flight by the European Space Agency. Israel’s Ministry of Science and Technology will fund the research, building and assembly of the device.

For some two-and-a-half years, as JUICE orbits Jupiter, the 3GM team will investigate the planet’s atmosphere by intercepting radio waves traveling through the gas, timing them, and measuring the angle at which the waves are deflected. This will enable them to decipher the atmosphere’s makeup. The 3GM instruments will also help search for tides as JUICE flies past three of Jupiter's moons – Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. Researchers observing these moons have noted fluctuations in their gravity, suggesting the large mass of Jupiter is creating tides in liquid oceans beneath their hard, icy exteriors. By measuring the variations in gravity, the researchers hope to learn how large these oceans are, what they are made of, and even whether their conditions might harbor life.

The 2022 launch date gives the teams three years to prepare the various instruments and another three to assemble and test the craft. During the eight-year wait for the spaceship to arrive at Jupiter, Kaspi intends to work on building theoretical models that can be tested against the data they will receive from their instruments.

Dr. Yohai Kaspi's research is supported by the Helen Kimmel Center for Planetary Science.