European Mission To Jupiter's Icy Moons Gets Kitted With Science Instruments

Page Mackinley

The European Space Agency's mission to launch a robotic probe to explore Jupiter's icy moons in 2022 has been kitted out with its science gear.

In total, the ESA picked 11 instruments for the planned JUpiter ICy moons Explorer --- or JUICE --- spacecraft.

The mission is slated to reach Jupiter, the largest planet in the solar system, in 2030 and will then spend at least three years studying the gas giant's major moons Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede and the volcanic Io, all of whom are thought to have huge oceans beneath their icy crusts.

Dmitrij Titov, JUICE study scientist for ESA, explains the mission's purpose:

"Jupiter and its icy moons constitute a kind of mini-Solar System in their own right, offering European scientists and our international partners the chance to learn more about the formation of potentially habitable worlds around other stars."

ESA officials said the spacecraft will also orbit Ganymede, the largest moon in our solar system, to analyze its surface and internal structure.

Unusually, Ganymede is the only known moon in the solar system with its own magnetic field, and JUICE will observe the moon's interactions with Jupiter's magnetosphere, said Frontiers.

The science instruments include cameras, spectrometers, a laser altimeter, an ice-penetrating radar, a magnetometer, plasma and particle monitors as well as radio science hardware.

Although the collection of instruments have been approved, teams from 15 European countries, the United States, and Japan will develop the tools to make them fit for purpose.

Luigi Colangeli, coordinator of ESA's solar system missions, said in a statement.

"The suite of instruments addresses all of the mission's science goals, from in-situ measurements of Jupiter's vast magnetic field and plasma environment, to remote observations of the surfaces and interiors of the three icy moons."

While the JUICE mission will launch in 2022, NASA also has another spacecraft en route to the giant planet. Launched in 2011, the Juno spacecraft is expected to arrive in Jupiter's orbit in July 2016.

Its mission? To study the planet's magnetic field and atmosphere. Putting those missions in context, JUICE and Juno are the first missions marked for Jupiter's exploration since NASA's Galileo mission from 1989 to 2003, Astrobio notes.