May 2, 2012
Committee Selects JUICE Jupiter Probe As Next Big Endeavor
Lee Rannals for RedOrbit.com
The European Space Agency (ESA) has selected a Jupiter probe to be its next "large class" space endeavor after a five-year-long competition.
The JUpiter Icy moon Explorer (JUICE) has been approved at a meeting of member state delegations in Paris.
The probe would be built in time for launch in 2022, and will take eight years to reach the Jovian system.
JUICE is a nearly five-ton satellite that aims to orbit Jupiter's moon Ganymede, as well as make fly-bys of Callisto and Europa.
ESA hopes JUICE will help determine whether Ganymede or any of the other moons are a habitable place for microbial 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.
"People probably don't realize that habitable zones don't necessarily need to be close to a star - in our case, close to the Sun," Professor Michele Dougherty, a Juice science team member from Imperial College London, UK, told Jonathan Amos of BBC News.
ESA said JUICE will make measurements of the thickness of Europa's icy crust to identify candidate sites for future exploration.
Ganymede is the only moon in the Solar System known to generate its own magnetic field, and JUICE will be observing this field 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,” Alvaro GimÃ©nez CaÃ±ete, ESA´s Director of Science and Robotic Exploration, said in a press release.
“JUICE will give us better insight into how gas giants and their orbiting worlds form, and their potential for hosting life.”
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.
JUICE was up against another mission that aims to create the biggest X-ray telescope ever built, known as ATHENA.
Also, the Jupiter moon mission proposal faced NGO, a mission that would see three high-precision satellites set off into space to detect gravitational waves.
"The selection process has been challenging given the excellent quality of the three mission candidates, and I would like to thank the Space Science Advisory Committee for its hard work and for having carried out this very challenging process in a very rigorous way," the Chair of ESA´s Science Program Committee, Dr Richard Bonneville, said in a statement.
ESA said the committee recognized the high value of both NGO and ATHENA, and the technology activities are planned to continue so that the missions will be considered as candidates for future launch opportunities.