The European Space Agency (ESA) has announced that Jupiter’s icy moons will be the focus of its next Large science mission. Getting the nod over the New Gravitational Wave Observatory (NGO), that would have hunted for gravitational waves, and ATHENA, the Advanced Telescope for High-Energy Astrophysics, the Jupiter Icy moons Explorer (JUICE) is scheduled to arrive at Jupiter in 2030 with the goal of studying its Galilean moons as potential habitats for life.
Having announced Solar Orbiter and Euclid as the first two missions selected for its Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 plan in October last year, JUICE has been selected as the program’s first Large-class mission. The ESA says JUICE was chosen as it addresses two of the Cosmic Vision program’s key themes: what are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life, and how does the Solar System work?
With icy Europa and rock-ice Ganymede and Callisto all thought to host internal oceans, JUICE will focus on these moons while continuously observing Jupiter’s atmosphere and magnetosphere, and the interaction of the Galilean moons with the planet. The mission will see it visit the tidally-locked Callisto, which is the most heavily cratered object in the Solar System and is composed of roughly equal amounts of rock and ices. It will also visit Europa twice to make the first measurements of the thickness of that moon’s icy crust and identify sites for future in situ exploration.
In 2032, JUICE will then enter orbit around Ganymede to study its icy surface and internal structure, including its subsurface ocean. As the only moon in the Solar System to generate its own magnetic field, JUICE will also closely observe the moon’s magnetic and plasma interactions with Jupiter’s magnetosphere.
“Jupiter is the archetype for the giant planets of the Solar System and for many giant planets being found around other stars,” says Prof. Alvaro Giménez Cañete, ESA’s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. “JUICE will give us better insight into how gas giants and their orbiting worlds form, and their potential for hosting life.”
JUICE is scheduled to launch from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guinea, on an Ariane 5 rocket in 2022. After arriving at Jupiter in 2030, it will spend at least three years making detailed observations of the gas giant’s Galilean moons.