Forget mapquesting Ganymede! It looks like Europe will spend a billion euro’s in order to launch JUICE (which stands for JUpiter ICy moon Explorer) find out more about Jupiter’s lunar children two decades from now (2030 for those who want to know).

ESA plans to pack the solar-powered spacecraft with a suite of instruments, which will collect high-resolution pictures as well as data on the moons’ chemical compositions, magnetic environments, and surface features.

During its roughly three-year mission, JUICE will perform two flybys of Europa, examining that moon’s icy crust in search of sites for future exploration, perhaps by a lander.

Then, after a dozen flybys of Callisto, the spacecraft will slip into orbit around Ganymede in 2032 and will study Jupiter’s largest moon for nearly a year.

“The ice shells of Ganymede and Europa serve as a window to the oceans below,” Hand said. That’s because, as in the Arctic on Earth, the surface ice is most likely born from oceans below, and so will carry information about the liquid water’s chemical composition. (National Geographic)

JUICE will also observer the relationship Jupiter has with the three Jovian moons (Callisto, Europa and Ganymede) as well as analyze each world for subterranean oceans.

Unfortunately humanity will be unable to visit Europa due to Jupiter’s radiation belts, although JUICE could help us identify potential spots to establish outposts upon Callisto as well as Ganymede (the latter which could be used as the bread basket of the Jovian system thanks in part to it’s magnetic field).

While JUICE’s purpose is to help us discover alien life upon other worlds, it’s launch and Jovian encounter could help prepare our species for spreading terrestrial life upon Jupiter’s outer Galilean moons.

Video Hat tip: Spaceports

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