The European Space Agency's (ESA) is all set to launch its first-ever mission to explore the icy worlds of Jupiter on Thursday.
The Jupiter Icy moons Explorer or JUICE mission, was initially slated for launch in 2022. It will now take off on Thursday (April 13) from Europe's Spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana.
The liftoff is scheduled from pad ELA-3 at 8:15 a.m. EDT (5:45 p.m. IST). The spacecraft is currently cocooned inside the fairing of its Ariane 5 rocket.
The spacecraft will take an eight-year journey to reach the largest planet in the Solar System in 2031.
The JUICE will make detailed observations of the giant gas planet and its three large ocean-bearing moons — Ganymede, Callisto and Europa — with a suite of remote sensing, geophysical and in situ instruments, the ESA said.
The mission will characterise these moons as both planetary objects and possible habitats, explore Jupiter's complex environment in depth, and study the wider Jupiter system as an archetype for gas giants across the Universe.
It will spend three and a half years in the Jupiter system, and in the final phase of its exploration will go into orbit around the largest Jovian moon, Ganymede.
JUICE will also perform flybys of Venus, Earth and the moon to increase its speed and adjust its trajectory. But to do so, those celestial bodies have to be aligned properly, which happens only twice a year, in April and again at summer's end, according to The Telegraph.
At a recent briefing, last week, the mission officials stated that weather forecasts for the April 13 launch outline an overcast sky with some thunderstorms.
If the mission is delayed due to weather or technical reasons, the team can try again to launch JUICE once each day for the rest of the month.
Further, if the spacecraft fails to launch in April, the next available slot would open four months later, in August 2023, Space.com reported.
Jupiter hosts storms larger than Earth and has its own system of moons featuring both ice and fire. So far, nine spacecraft have visited the gas giant.
Besides ESA's JUICE, NASA's Europa Clipper will also launch a mission to the Jovian system. The Europa Clipper is slated for a launch in October 2024 and expected to arrive in April 2030.