Stuck antenna freed on Jupiter-bound spacecraft

A crucial radar antenna on a European spacecraft bound for Jupiter is no longer jammed.

Flight controllers in Germany freed the 52ft (16-metre) antenna on Friday (May 12) after nearly a month of effort.

The European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer, nicknamed Juice, blasted off in April on a decade-long voyage.

Soon after launch, a tiny pin refused to budge and prevented the antenna from fully opening – we reported on it here.

Controllers tried shaking and warming the spacecraft to get the pin to move by just millimetres.

Back-to-back jolts finally did the trick.

The radar antenna will peer deep beneath the icy crust of three Jupiter moons suspected of harbouring underground oceans and possibly life.

Those moons are Callisto, Europa and Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system.

Juice will attempt to go into orbit around Ganymede.

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No spacecraft has ever orbited a moon other than our own.

The news was not so good for NASA’s Lunar Flashlight spacecraft.

After struggling unsuccessfully for months to get the Cubesat into orbit around the moon, the space agency called it quits on Friday.

Launched in December, the Lunar Flashlight was supposed to hunt for ice in the shadowed craters of the lunar south pole.

Now it is heading back towards Earth and then into deep space, continually orbiting the sun.

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