April 19, 2012
JUICE Frontrunner In ESA Proposals
The Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) proposal to study the moons of Jupiter is leading the pack of proposed missions.
The mission would launch in 2022 to study Jupiter's moons and determine whether any of them are capable of supporting life.
JUICE, according to BBC News, is waiting for a European space committee to meet and discuss the mission, along with other contenders, in May.
The spacecraft in the mission would study three of Jupiter's Galilean moons, using gravity of the large planet to help perform close flybys around Callisto, Europa and Ganymede.
JUICE is up against another mission that aims to create the biggest X-ray telescope ever built, known as Athena.
Also, the Jupiter moon mission proposal faces NGO, a mission that would see three high-precision satellites set off into space to detect gravitational waves.
JUICE has been nominated as the preferred mission of the three, and now awaits the European Union's decision.
The 19 member-state delegations will determine during ESA's Science Program Committee on May 2 in Paris whether JUICE gets to go ahead.
JUICE will cost ESA $1.1 billion to perform, and once other nation agencies have contributed instruments to the mission, it will be well over that price.
The satellite would take just about eight years to reach the Jovian System, putting the time frame of its arrival in 2030.
The icy moons make an enticing feat for scientists because previous research suggests they have large bodies of liquid water beneath their crusts. Having this puts the moons as a possible location for finding extraterrestrial life.
The mission itself is not going to be able to detect life, but it will provide scientists with more information as to what types of conditions exist on the moons.
JUICE could also help astronomers understand a little more about our Solar System as well. Jupiter's Galilean moons look very similar to exo-planets now being detected, and could help researchers gain a better understanding of this type of planet.
NASA was originally included in the concept of JUICE, and it was going to be proposed as a double mission, both with the U.S. space agency and ESA.
However, NASA had to back out of the proposal due to budget cuts, saying that it would not have enough money for a Europa orbiter until the 2020s at the earliest.
Image Caption: The illustration shows Jupiter and its large moons: Ganymede, Europa, Io and Callisto. Credit: ESA/Artist: M. Carroll