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Israeli atomic clock to measure Jupiter’s atmosphere

The technology is installed on the European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) spacecraft.

Members of the space project from the Weizmann Institute of Science. From left: Maria Smirnova, Yohai Kaspi and Eli Galanti. Credit: Weizmann Institute of Science.
Members of the space project from the Weizmann Institute of Science. From left: Maria Smirnova, Yohai Kaspi and Eli Galanti. Credit: Weizmann Institute of Science.

Israeli innovation is powering a historic mission to Jupiter scheduled for launch this month as the Jewish state sends its first-ever complete electronic system to deep space, the Israel Space Agency said on Monday.

The European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) spacecraft is set to liftoff on April 13 from Europe’s Spaceport in French Guiana and onboard will be an Ultra-Stable-Oscillator (USO) atomic clock from Israeli company AccuBeat.

The JUICE spacecraft prepared for fueling. Credit: ESA

A group of Israeli researchers led by Professor Yohai Kaspi from the Weizmann Institute of Science in Rehovot is leading the experiments with the clock that will measure the chemical properties of Jupiter’s atmosphere.

“With the help of a radio beam sent from the spacecraft through the atmosphere and thanks to the precise clock, we will measure tiny changes in the frequency of the beam. Thus, throughout Jupiter’s orbit we will get a temperature profile at a certain point and throughout the mission we will build a three-dimensional map of Jupiter’s atmosphere. This data will allow us to understand the structure and composition of the first and largest planet in the solar system,” Caspi explained.

The clock is built to function for 15 years. The mission will take seven to eight years to reach Jupiter with the estimated orbital arrival to the gas giant in 2031.

JUICE aims to map out Jupiter and its surrounding neighborhood and determine if its 95 known natural satellites, or moons, are habitable.

The Israel Space Agency in the Innovation, Science and Technology Ministry funded the USO clock and the Weizmann experiment. The device is integrated into the Italian Space Agency’s 3GM system. The Israel Space Agency is partnering with the Italian Space Agency in the JUICE project.

“The Israel Space Agency is proud to take part in the flagship mission of the European Space Agency, both in the engineering-technological aspect and in the research aspect,” said Brig. Gen. (res.) Uri Oron, director of the Israel Space Agency.

“AccuBeat, which is at the global forefront of the development of atomic clocks and uses in space, is an example of the excellent engineering capabilities in Israel. I have no doubt that the research that will be carried out at the Weizmann Institute will be a central component of the mission’s research program and will continue to advance the field of space research in the State of Israel to the world front,” Oron continued.

Separately, Israeli Innovation, Science and Technology Minister Ofir Akunis met on March 27 with NASA Administrator Bill Nelson at NASA headquarters in Washington to discuss cooperation on future Artemis missions.

And on March 29, Israel successfully launched the latest version of its Ofek reconnaissance satellites, the Defense Ministry said.

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