ESA Targets Jupiter’s Icy Moons with Juice Mission

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The European Space Agency (ESA) announced May 2 that Europe’s next large science mission will launch in 2022 on a decade-long mission to explore Jupiter’s icy moons.

The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice) was chosen over two other candidates: the New Gravitational Wave Observatory and the Advanced Telescope for High-Energy Astrophysics, ESA said in a press release.

After its launch from Europe’s spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, aboard an Ariane 5 rocket, the Juice craft will arrive at Jupiter in 2030 and spend at least three years making detailed observations of its moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

After visiting Callisto and twice flying by Europa to make the first measurements of the thickness of Europa’s icy crust, Juice in 2032 will finally enter orbit around Ganymede, where it will study the icy surface and internal structure of the moon, including its subsurface ocean. Ganymede is the only moon in the solar system known to generate its own magnetic field.

“Jupiter is the archetype for the giant planets of the Solar System and for many giant planets being found around other stars,” Alvaro Gimenez Canete, ESA’s director of science and robotic exploration, said in a statement. “JUICE will give us better insight into how gas giants and their orbiting worlds form, and their potential for hosting life.”

The Juice announcement marked the culmination of a process that started in 2004 when ESA called on the science community to help set Europe’s space exploration goals for the coming decade. In 2007, ESA issued a call for missions that addressed the goals outlined in its Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 report and ultimately selected several proposal for additional study.

ESA said it would continue to fund technology development activities in support of the two runner-ups so that they can be considered as candidates for future launch opportunities. A second call for large missions is planned for 2013.