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Juice mission successfully tests Callisto flyby simulation
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Juice mission successfully tests Callisto flyby simulation
by Erica Marchand
Paris, France (SPX) Apr 12, 2024

In preparation for a critical mission maneuver in 2031, ESA's Juice spacecraft recently completed a simulated flyby of Jupiter's moon Callisto at the ESOC mission operations center in Germany. This early test involved tricking Juice's engineering model into believing it was navigating past Callisto, to evaluate the spacecraft's autonomous navigation software.

Due to the significant communication delays expected between Earth and the Juice spacecraft when it is near Jupiter, the test was essential to ensure that Juice can operate independently without real-time instructions from mission control. Given the uncertainties in Callisto's exact position by 2031, the precise navigation needed for accurate scientific data collection poses a significant challenge.

Ignacio Tanco, Juice Flight Operations Director, emphasized the importance of the spacecraft's ability to autonomously identify key features on Callisto and adjust its trajectory and instrument orientation accordingly. The successful simulation demonstrated Juice's capacity to maintain its course and focus on scientific targets during the flyby.

Giulio Pinzan, ESA Spacecraft Operations Engineer, described the complexity of the test, which required real-time interaction between the spacecraft's navigation software and simulated images of Callisto. This advanced simulation setup involved projecting images onto the spacecraft's navigation camera to mimic the actual conditions of the flyby.

Despite the high stakes and potential for numerous technical challenges, the ESA team, along with partners from Airbus, completed the test on the first attempt, surpassing their own expectations. This achievement highlighted the precision of the Flight Dynamics team's calculations and the effectiveness of the onboard autonomous navigation system.

The Juice team now plans to confirm the flight model's behavior mirrors that of the engineering model by conducting similar tests in space during upcoming planetary flybys. The next significant challenge for Juice will be the innovative lunar-Earth gravity assist maneuver scheduled for August this year, which involves navigating close passes by both the Moon and Earth within a 24-hour period.

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