Success: Juice radar antenna breaks free after remote control thump

ESA’s Juice Jupiter mission is back on track after Mission Control in Darmstadt, Germany managed to shake loose and deploy the stuck ice-penetrating Radar for Icy Moons Exploration (RIME) antenna that was stuck due to a tiny pin.

It’s been a case of slow mail biting at ESA as its Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) mission to study the planet’s moons and orbit Ganymede almost came to a premature end just as its eight-year voyage to the giant planet had just begun.

After what seemed like a flawless launch on April 14, 2023 from the Guiana Space Centre in Kourou, French Guiana, the spacecraft entered its months-long commissioning phase where its instruments would be deployed and put through the wringer to make sure they were ready to go to work. Then the 16-m (52-ft) RIME antenna jammed after only extending a third of the way and refusing to swing into the open position.

RIME antenna moving into place
RIME antenna moving into place


The most likely culprit was a tiny pin that extended a few millimeters too far, holding the antenna in place. Not having a handy robotic arm aboard to give it a solid whack with a giant mallet, the engineers came up with an alternative. They rotated the spacecraft into the sunlight to heat up, much like one might run a jam jar under a hot tap to loosen it. They then fired the thrusters in an effort to shake the antenna loose. It moved a bit, but not enough.

Then, on May 12, the team fired a Non-Explosive Actuator (NEA) that delivered a big enough mechanical shock to shift the pin and free the antenna, which swung dramatically away from the spacecraft and extended itself. A second actuator in the antenna’s holding bracket was then activated, causing it to unfold itself and lock into position.

Juice is now on its way to Jupiter and will make a series of flybys of the Earth, Moon, Venus, and Mars. This will give it enough velocity to reach Jupiter by January 2031.

Source: ESA

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