The European Space Agency’s (ESA) Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission will gain three key contributions from NASA. The mission, slated to launch in 2022, is set to explore the gas giant as well as three of its moons in never-before-seen detail.
NASA will provide one U.S.-led instrument as well as hardware for two European instruments. All total, JUICE will carry a suite of some 11 scientific experiments. Besides NASA and ESA, Japan will also be contributing to this mission.
JUICE is scheduled to explore the Jovian system for a period of about three years. During this time, it will study the moons Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Europa has long been suspected (all but confirmed) to have an enormous ocean hiding just beneath its surface. Some estimates have placed the size of this ocean as being larger than all the bodies of water on Earth—combined. JUICE will conduct flybys of these moons before entering orbit around Callisto, which is larger than the planet Mercury.
These moons are of interest to not just the scientific community, but to the public as well, as they are thought to contain massive oceans underneath their icy crusts. Many researchers feel that the moons represent humanity’s best chance of finding extraterrestrial life in our solar system.
“NASA is thrilled to collaborate with ESA on this exciting mission to explore Jupiter and its icy moons,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator of the NASA Science Mission Directorate. “Working together with ESA and our other international partners is key to enabling future scientific progress in our quest to understand the cosmos.”
NASA launched the Juno mission to Jupiter in 2011, which will study the planet Jupiter exclusively and will not enter orbit around the massive world until 2016. Like Juno, JUICE will be powered by solar arrays that will collect energy from the sun and convert it into electricity to power the spacecraft’s instruments and cameras. Some of the equipment that JUICE will take with it to study the moons include a magnetometer, radio science hardware, radar capable of penetrating into the ice, as well as plasma and particle generators. JUICE won’t enter the Jovian system until 2030.
“The selection of JUICE’s instruments is a key milestone in ESA’s flagship mission to the outer solar system, which represents an unprecedented opportunity to showcase leading European technological and scientific expertise,” said Alvaro Gimenez Canete, ESA’s director of science and robotic exploration.
In 2012, NASA invited researchers to submit proposals for equipment to fly on JUICE. Nine of these proposals were reviewed and one was selected to fly. To date, NASA has contributed $100 million for design, development, and operation of the mission through 2033.
According to a NASA news release, the space agency will provide the following to the mission:
—Ultraviolet Spectrometer: The principal investigator is Randy Gladstone of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. This spectrometer will acquire images to explore the surfaces and atmospheres of Jupiter’s icy moons and how they interact with the Jupiter environment. The instrument also will determine how Jupiter’s upper atmosphere interacts with its lower atmosphere below, and the ionosphere and magnetosphere above. The instrument will provide images of the aurora on Jupiter and Ganymede.
—Radar for Icy Moon Exploration: The principal investigator is Lorenzo Bruzzone of Universita degli Studi di Trento in Italy. The U.S. lead is Jeffrey Plaut of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif. Under the lead of Bruzzone and the Italian Space Agency, JPL will provide the transmitter and receiver hardware for a radar sounder designed to penetrate the icy crust of Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto to a depth of about 5 miles (9 kilometers). This will allow scientists to see for the first time the underground structure of these tectonically complex and unique icy worlds.
—Particle Environment Package: The principal investigator is Stas Barabash of the Swedish Institute of Space Physics. The U.S. lead is Pontus Brandt of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md. Under the lead of Barabash and the Swedish National Space Board, APL will provide instruments to this suite to measure the neutral material and plasma that are accelerated and heated to extreme levels in Jupiter’s fierce and complex magnetic environment. NASA’s Science Mission Directorate conducts a wide variety of research and scientific exploration programs for Earth studies, space weather, the solar system, and the universe. The New Frontiers Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., will manage the NASA contributions. JUICE is the first large-class mission in ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 Program.