Note: it was actually back in September of 2017 that the test took place – I’m rather late to this one!
The European Space Agency’s mission, dubbed JUICE (JUpiter ICy moons Explorer), took shape at an airfield 30 kilometres northwest of Airbus’ Friedrichshafen plant in Germany. It was here that the 16.6 metre antenna of the RIME instrument was tested in various flight configurations over two days (20–21 September).
In June 2022, the 5.5 ton spacecraft JUICE will set off on its nearly 600 million-kilometre-long journey to Jupiter, where it is expected to arrive in late 2029.
Keysight Technologiues, which is involved with the testing writes:
RIME engineers performed phase-matching and orientation tests on the RIME antenna in Heiligenberg, Germany in September 2017. They also evaluated two radar antennas, one aluminum and the other carbon fiber reinforced polymer (CFRP), which will be used on the spacecraft. The antennas were housed on a satellite-sized enclosure, and the enclosure was lifted 300 meters in the air by helicopter to ensure low-RF coupling to the ground.
Keysight’s handheld FieldFox analyzer was used in remote mode to measure S-parameter characteristics of the antenna in flight as it was rotated more than 180 degrees and with the spacecraft mock-up being maneuvered by helicopter. Test data was recovered at a base station on the ground via a wireless link between the FieldFox and the ground base station.
The goal is to investigate whether there are liquid oceans under these icy crusts which might harbour potentially habitable environments.
Once the spacecraft enters Jupiter’s gravitational field, the first two and a half years will be spent making about 30 observation overflights of the three moons, examining their interior, surface, tenuous atmosphere and magnetic interactions, reports Keysight.
The last year will be spent in orbit around Ganymede to observe this moon in much greater detail.
Airbus is the prime contractor for the JUICE spacecraft. Apparently it has around 150 space engineers working on JUICE and it leads an industry consortium of 60 companies.
Jupiter and Saturn
Any excuse to play some Pink Floyd-style space rock. “Jupiter and Saturn. Oberon, Miranda and Titania. Neptune, Titan, stars can frighten…”
Images: Airbus/ Rolf Schwark