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Why does the JUICE space probe need such delicate timing?

Mission planners had a one-second window to launch their latest space probe.
The rocket carrying the JUICE space probe.
Posted at 8:22 PM, Apr 13, 2023

JUICE, short for the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, launched on its voyage to the outer solar system on Friday — but getting the probe into space was a delicate operation even by spaceflight standards. 

Scientists want to save JUICE's fuel for when it arrives at Jupiter — so instead of burning it on the outbound voyage, the probe will use a string of gravity assists to gain speed. It will spend years swinging close around the Sun, around Earth, around Venus, and then around Earth twice more before it finally speeds toward Jupiter. 

But this means the planets have to be in the right place at the right time.

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JUICE is set to study three of Jupiter's most intriguing moons in some of the closest detail ever. 

It will make close passes of Ganymede, Europa and Callisto, where it will investigate oceans: both the ones we know about on Ganymede and Europa, and the ones we think are hiding under the battered surface of Callisto. 

JUICE isn't designed to hunt for signs of life, scientists say — and they point out that if anything is alive on the moons, it's likely hiding somewhere deep in the oceans anyway. But the data JUICE gathers on the moons will tell us more about how life in the solar system came to be, and what it needs to occur in the first place.