Europe Plans Mission to Jupiter's Moons

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An astrobiology mission to three of Jupiter’s icy moons topped two rival astrophysics proposals to win European Space Agency (ESA) funding for its next big space science mission.

The Jupiter Icy moons Explorer, nicknamed JUICE, is a mission to study three of the planet’s large moons — Callisto, Europa and Ganymede. All three are believed to have underground liquid oceans and may be capable of supporting life.

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“Jupiter is the archetype for the giant planets of the solar system and for many giant planets being found around other stars,” Alvaro Giménez Cañete, 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 spacecraft is scheduled to be launched in 10 years and would arrive at Jupiter in 2030. Other missions vying for ESA funding were NGO, the New Gravitational wave Observatory, to hunt for gravitational waves, and ATHENA, the Advanced Telescope for High-Energy Astrophysics.

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“It was a difficult decision to choose one mission from three excellent candidates,” Giménez Cañete said.

In announcing its decision, ESA said that technology development to support NGO and ATHENA will continue so they can be considered for future missions.

Image: Artist’s rendering of JUICE on the job at Jupiter. Credit: ESA