Flyby Jove! Jupiter mission given go-ahead
University of Leicester space scientists are to play a key role in the first European-led mission to the outer solar system, and the first spacecraft destined to orbit an icy moon, announced by the European Space Agency (ESA) today.
It has approved a new mission to explore Jupiter and its icy moons – also known as the Jovian system - to reveal fresh insights into the habitability of the ‘waterworlds’ orbiting the giant planets in our solar system and beyond.
A team from Leicester, led by Dr Emma Bunce from our Department of Physics and Astronomy, will be one from four UK institutions working to propose experiments to be carried as part of the spacecraft payload. These instruments will be specifically designed to study the gas giant, its icy moons and charged particle environment to an unprecedented level of detail, giving our most detailed characterisation of the Jovian system ever obtained.
The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) is scheduled to launch in 2022, arriving in the Jupiter system in 2030. It will cost ESA an estimated 830 million euros on its own – with the cost of the instruments on board it is estimated that it will exceed one billion euros in total.
The primary target of the mission is the solar system’s largest moon, Ganymede, an icy world 8% larger than the planet Mercury. Ganymede is unique within the solar system – it is thought to harbour a deep ocean under the icy crust, it has its own internally generated magnetic field, and it has a surface littered with more types of crater than anywhere else in the solar system.
The spacecraft will also investigate Jupiter’s other icy worlds: Callisto, the most distant from its parent planet, is least affected by Jupiter’s magnetosphere, which will also be studied by JUICE; and Europa, the smallest of the Galilean* moons, may harbour a liquid ocean beneath its solid surface and thus may be able to support extraterrestrial life.
*The four Jovian moons observed by Galileo in the 17th century. JUICE will be examining all except for Io, which harbours very little water but has plenty of volcanoes.