18th May 2023

FINALLY, the RIME Antenna is free! After long weeks of hard work, the European Space Agency revealed on May 12th that the Radar for Icy Moon Exploration antenna has finally escaped its mounting bracket. 

In Darmstadt, at ESA’s mission control centre, flight control teams were delighted to see their efforts pay off. They used thrusters to try and shift the pin and warm Juice with sunlight. While the RIME antenna displayed signs of moment every day, it wouldn’t fully release.

On May 12th, the team fired a ‘non-explosive actuator’ (NEA) mechanical device in the jammed bracket. This caused a shock that made the pin move by mere millimetres, which was sufficient enough to unfold the antenna.

The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission, launched by the European Space Agency (ESA), aims to unlock the secrets of Jupiter and its fascinating system of icy moons. However, on 28th April, the ESA revealed that the mission was encountering a setback, as they were unable to unfurl an antenna deep in space.

The European Space Agency has stated that they have plenty of ideas up their sleeves to rectify the problem.

Not plain-sailing: The JUICE antenna glitch

JUICE has an issue with its antenna in a scene that’s very much reminiscent of the antenna issues suffered on the Galileo spacecraft. The 16-metre-long radar for the RIME unit is stuck on a very small pin, which is preventing it from being deployed fully.

Spacecraft teams are working hard to free the antenna. It seems that it only needs to be nudged a few millimetres to become loose. However, this appears easier said than done.

The issue first came to light on the day the unit attempted to deploy. From this moment, the teams have been nudging and rocking it back and forth. However, the antenna is still stuck at present.

In their update, the ESA stated that “a matter of millimetres could make the difference to set the rest of the radar free.”

A number of possible solutions remain on the table

ESA officials have confirmed that there are a number of available options when it comes to nudging the critical instrument out of its existing position. They wrote:

“The next steps to fully deploy the antenna include an engine burn to shake the spacecraft a little, followed by a series of rotations that will turn JUICE, warming up the mount and radar, which are currently in the cold shadows.”

Assuming they’re able to unjam the antenna, it will enable JUICE to see as far as 9 metres underneath Jupiter’s moons like Europa and Ganymede.

As of 9th May, ESA has announced a new RIME update on Twitter:

JUICE mission has an antenna issue

Also, it is expected to have three more thermal rotations and thruster burns this week. “During the third, the remaining ‘actuator’ (mechanical device to release the other boom) will be fired on the jammed bracket, creating a mechanical shock we hope might free the RIME”, comments ESA.

What is the JUICE mission?

The JUICE mission aims to make a number of flybys of Jupiter’s satellites Europe, Callisto, and Ganymede, and then to go into orbit around Ganymede. These icy satellites hold immense potential for the existence of extraterrestrial life or at least the conditions conducive to its development.

Costing $1.1 billion, the project launched on 14th April, with July 2031 penned as an expected arrival date in Jupiter. 

The first version of this article contained mistakes and misleading information. The misconceptions have been resolved and the article has been updated with the correct information on 9th May 2023.

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