03 May 2012
Ganimede, Europa and Callisto, Jupiter system icy moons, will be the focus of Jupiter Icy moons Explorer (JUICE), the new European planetary exploration project.
Unanimously voted as the Cosmic Vision L1 mission by Space Programme Committee (SPC) delegations, during a meeting at the ESA headquarters in Paris on 2 May 2012, JUICE scattered the competition.
Represented, incidentally, by two high-profile candidates such as NGO (New Gravitational wave Observatory) and ATHENA (Advanced Telescope for High-Energy Astrophyisics) missions.
Delegations congratulated the ESA executive on the detailed explanation about the scientific reasons, techniques and programmatic that led JUICE to be chosen. With this project, Europe will be able to reach one of our Solar System outer planets in autonomous way.
What are the conditions for the life and planetary formation ? How does the Solar System work? These are the two “key” questions of the Cosmic Vision 2015 – 2025 programme. Studying Jupiter’s moons – which are presumed to have internal oceans – will try to find an answer.
JUICE, which will definitively be adopted in 2014 in view of the launch in 2022 from Kourou and will reach Jupiter in 2030, will carry out its mission for three years in an environment – i.e. that of Jupiter – which is very similar to a miniature Solar System.
JUICE is conceived to complete a complex series of tasks from observing Jupiter’s atmosphere and magnetosphere, for instance, to the Galilean moons interaction with the planet.
It should also visit Callisto (the celestial body that is most greatly covered in craters in the Solar System), measure the ice cap thickness on Europa, identify appropriate sites for a possible exploration in situ and study the Ganimede icy surface and the internal structure, the only moon with its own magnetic field.
The choice of JUICE is the crowning achievement of a process started in 2004, the year in which ESA began a wide consultation with the scientific community to identify European planetary exploration aims for the next decade. Italian and ASI involvement in this mission is wide. JUICE involves high technological level proposals from the intense scientific activity realized up to now. The Italian Space Agency will be joined by the national scientific community, other research bodies and the academic world.
Further evidence of Italy’s central role within planetary exploration is the fact that our country has also been deeply involved in NGO and ATHENA missions.