ESA pays $1 billion to send JUICE to Jupiter's moons

NASA may be focusing on missions that are faster and cheaper while rolling over in favor of private industry, but the European Space Agency is kicking space science up a notch with a brand new plan for a $1.3 billion mission that'll explore the moons of Jupiter starting in 2030. It's called JUICE, for "Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer." Obviously.

Jupiter is a dangerous place for space probes what with all the radiation and all, but that's not stopping the ESA from planning to spend 3.5 years in the Jovian system. Basically, you can think of Jupiter and its moons as a little micro solar system in its own right, with Jupiter playing the role of the sun, pumping massive amounts of radiation and tidal heat into its "planets." This makes some interesting stuff happen: there's Callisto, the most heavily cratered object in the entire solar system. There's Ganymede, the only moon in the solar system that generates its own magnetic field (and where JUICE will eventually end up in orbit of). And then, of course, there's Europa.

"ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS — EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE." - Arthur C. Clarke, 2010: Odyssey Two

In deference to Clarke, the ESA will not be attempting landings on Europa, which has an icy surface covering what's probably a liquid water ocean an is one of the places in the solar system where we're most likely to find life. What JUICE will be doing is making ice thickness measurements and attempting to identify areas where landing attempts might be possible in a future mission.

The mission is still a bit scanty on details (like what science instruments will be on board), but since the launch window doesn't open until 2022, it seems likely that we'll get a few more details over the next, you know, decade. If you can't wait until then, you can instead look forward to NASA's Juno mission, which should start sending back Jupiter pics round about 2016.

Via ESA

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