The European Space Agency (ESA) is planning to launch a space mission in 2022 to explore Jupiter's moons. ESA officials say the mission, Jupiter Icy moons Explorer (JUICE), will reach Jupiter in 2030 and spend three years studying its moons.
The Telegraph reports that the JUICE project was formally sanctioned at a meeting in Paris on Wednesday.
According to Space.com, the JUICE mission to Jupiter is part of the agency's Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 program. It was selected as the first mission for the program among other proposed missions, such a space observatory to search for gravity waves and an advanced high-energy astrophysics telescope.
The decision in favor of the JUICE probe, among other proposed missions, was the culmination of a selection process that began in 2007. Alvaro Gimenez Canete, ESA's director of Science and Robotic Exploration, said: "It was a difficult decision to choose one mission from three excellent candidates. All three would produce world-class science and put Europe at the forefront of space research. JUICE is a necessary step for the future exploration of our outer solar system."
Gimenez Canete said: "Jupiter is the archetype for the giant planets of the Solar System and for many giant planets being found around other stars. JUICE will give us better insight into how gas giants and their orbiting worlds form, and their potential for hosting life."
Io9.com reports that a key object of the JUICE mission is to make an assessment of potential for life on Jupiter's moons based on the fact that the three moons have subsurface bodies of water. The Telegraph reports that scientists believe that in spite of the great distance from their Sun, Jupiter's moons fit the criteria for life to form.
Space.com reports that the JUICE spacecraft is a solar-powered orbiter. It will complete its journey to Jupiter in seven-and-half years and study Jupiter's atmosphere and magnetosphere. It will investigate how the Galilean moons (Callista, Europa and Ganymede and Io) interact with Jupiter, and conduct a study of the largest moons.
The spacecraft will study Callisto's surface, heavily pockmarked with craters, and believed to be "the most battered object in the solar system." JUICE is also expected to pass by the icy moon Europa, and take the first ever measurements of the moon's icy crust and seek possible landing sites for future missions.
According to the The Telegraph, after it has performed a series of close passes by Callisto and Europa, it will enter into Ganymede's orbit, Jupiter's largest moon, and the biggest moon orbiting any planet in our solar system. The Telegraph reports that Ganymede is the chief target of the mission because it is believed to hold the most potential for life. Astronomers believe that if moons are common around giant planets orbiting other stars, then Ganymede is an accessible model of a vast number of other habitable moons in our galaxy.
According to Professor Michele Dougherty of Imperial College London: "The four conditions you need so that life can form are liquid water, an energy source such as heat, complex organic molecules like carbon, hydrogen and nitrogen to form the basic building blocks of life, and you need all those conditions to be stable for a relatively long period of time. We think those conditions are there, but by getting as much data as we can we are going to be able to understand much better whether that is the case."
Space.com reports Ganymede is also the only moon known to have a magnetic field. JUICE mission is expected to study Ganymede's magnetic field and map its icy surface and probe its interior structure which is believed may hold a subsurface ocean.
According to io9.com, the primary goals for Ganymede and Callisto missions include:
- Scanning the ocean layers and detecting subsurface water reservoirs
- Topographical, geological and compositional mapping of the surface
- Studying the physical properties of the icy crusts
- Analyzing the internal mass distribution, dynamics and evolution of the interiors
- Investigating the exosphere
- Studying Ganymede's intrinsic magnetic field and its interactions with the Jovian magnetosphere
The overall purpose of ESA's Cosmic vision 2015-2025 is to seek a better understanding of how planets form and the conditions that favor emergence of life on a planet. Space.com reports the Cosmic vision 2015-2025, also aims to investigate "how the solar system works, the fundamental laws of the universe, as well as how the universe began in the first place and what it is made of."
Space.com reports that the mission will cost about $1.3 billion. Mashable reports that the spacecraft will launch on an Ariane 5 carrier rocket in 2022 from Kourou, French Guiana, and arrive in Jupiter in 2030.
JUICE is not the only new mission seeking to explore the planet Jupiter. NASA's Juno mission was launched toward the planet in August 2011 and is expected to arrive at Jupiter in 2016.