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A NASA spacecraft maneuvers to fly over the Earth and the Moon

A NASA spacecraft maneuvers to fly over the Earth and the Moon

The Joyce spacecraft recently performed one of the largest and most important maneuvers on its mission to Jupiter. The spacecraft changed its path around the sun, so that next year it would be able to use the gravity of the Earth and the Moon to direct it towards the largest planet in the solar system.

  • The maneuver was carried out on November 17, at approximately 12:10 pm Brasilia time;
  • The spacecraft activated its main engine and burned its fuel for approximately 43 minutes;
  • In total, 363 kilograms of fuel were consumed, equivalent to 10% of what the spacecraft carried.
  • In addition to maneuvering, activating the engine also checks if it is working as expected.

The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) mission was launched in April this year and will observe Jupiter and three of its moons, Ganymede, Callisto and Europa. However, before that, the spacecraft will face a long journey, as it will need to overcome the Sun’s gravity until it reaches the planet in 2031.

The mission will take so long because instead of using fuel to make the entire trip, the spacecraft will use “gravity assist” maneuvers to gain energy and launch itself through the planets’ strong gravitational fields along the way.

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The gravity of the juice helps

Gravity assistance that Gus will carry out until the end of his journey to Jupiter and its moons
European Space Agency (Acknowledgment: work carried out by ATG under contract with ESA), CC BY-SA 3.0 IGO)

The first propulsion will occur in August 2024, and will use the gravity of both Earth and the Moon. But to do this, the spacecraft had to maneuver to reach the Earth system at the right time, speed and direction.

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This was the first of two maneuvering phases, in which 95% of the work had already been performed and the spacecraft’s speed changed by 200 m/s. The second part will be held soon for Joss’s meeting with the Earth and the Moon in August.

In a few weeks, after analyzing Gus’s new orbit, we will perform the second, much smaller part of the maneuver. Splitting the maneuver into two parts allows us to use the second engine’s drive to correct any errors in the first part.

Julia Schwarz, a flight dynamics engineer at ESA, said in a statement

Another additional maneuver could be performed in May 2024 to make final adjustments during the approach, using the smaller thrusters.

If all goes well during this first gravitational assist, the main engine will not need to be activated again until 2031, when it reaches Jupiter.

After gravitationally assisting Earth and the Moon in August next year, Joss will continue using the gravity of Venus in 2025, Earth’s alone in 2026 and 2029, and then finally head toward Jupiter.