03 May 2012
Artist's impression of the JUICE spacecraft. (Credit: ESA/AOES)

Prepare to get JUICEd up on science and that of Jupiter's icy moons and Jupiter itself.  The European Space Agency has given the go for a mission to the icy moons and Jupiter called JUICE, which stands for JUpiter ICy moons Explorer. 

JUICE will consist of a solar-powered craft that will spend 3.5 years at the Jovian system.  It will investigate Ganymede, Europa and the upper atmosphere of Jupiter.  The mission won't launch until 2022 and arrive at Jupiter 8 years later in 2030.

The main science objectives are that of the largest icy moons, Ganymede and Europa, which are thought to harbor liquid oceans under their frozen surfaces.

Ganymede is also thought to have a magnetic field, making it the only moon in the solar system known to have one.  The internal heat from the core may make Ganymede's underground ocean liquid, but many mechanics of this are not understood.

JUICE will study Europa, whose surface is lined with cracks and mounds of frozen material.  These seem to be indications of a subsurface ocean, though its not known how deep or vast this ocean may be.  Scientists are interested in learning about its composition and whether it could contain life forms.  Potential landing sites will be investigated based on information obtained.

JUICE will also take images of the moon Callisto and look for auroras in the Jupiter's upper atmosphere and measure the planet's magnetic field.

Originally JUICE was to join a NASA mission surrounding Europa, but the mission was declared too costly by NASA and canceled.  It is still possible that NASA may supply some of the instruments for JUICE, if funding permits.

The total cost of this mission is expected to be $1.1 billion (870 million euros).

NASA also has a mission geared towards the planet Jupiter, the Juno Mission.  It was launched in 2011 and will arrive in 2016.

Source:  space.com

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