JUICE to Jupiter Could Be ESA’s Next Major Science Mission

by Nancy Atkinson on April 18, 2012

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Artist concept of JUICE, a Jupiter moons orbiter mission. Credit: ESA

The Science Programme Committee of the European Space Agency has recommended that the next major space mission for ESA be an orbiter mission to the Jupiter system named JUICE, the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer. This mission would launch in about 2020 and explore potentially habitable moon around the gas giant, Callisto, Europa, and Ganymede.

This recommendation is not the final decision, but puts JUICE as a front-runner for when representatives of all 19 ESA member states meet to discuss the various mission candidates on May 2, 2012

Other missions being considered are ATHENA , the Advanced Telescope for High-ENergy Astrophysics (originally called IXO) – which would be the biggest X-ray telescope ever built — even though smaller in scope than the original IXO) and study the extremes of the Universe: from black holes to large-scale structure ; and NGO, the New Gravitational wave Observatory, a smaller version of LISA, a space-borne gravitational wave detector which would place a three satellites in orbit.

“This is a big blow to space based astrophysics,” wrote European science blogger Steinn Sigurdsson, who added that rumors are floating around that the NGO science team may be disbanded immediately, even though the new report issued by the Science Programme Committee is just a recommendation.

Planetary Society blogger Emily Lakdawalla also commented on the selection — if it is accepted — “represents a big win for planetary science and a big loss for space-based astrophysics in Europe. Which is, one can’t help but notice, opposite to what the currently-proposed NASA budget represents.”

Whatever mission is chosen for the next flagship science mission, ESA knows it will likely have to do it on their own.

In March 2011, NASA informed ESA that that it was highly unlikely that they could become a major partner in an “L” (large) mission for the 2020 timeframe.

“Given the resulting impossibility to continue with the mission concepts defined in the Assessment Phase, the Executive terminated the relative activities for EJSM-Laplace, IXO, and LISA, and informed the members of the three Science Study Teams of the termination of their mandate,” the new report says. “To preserve as much as possible the investment of the scientific community and of the Member States in the study activities of the L mission candidates, the Executive implemented a recovery action in the form of a fast-track re-formulation activity. The aim has been to ascertain if and which of the science goals of the L mission candidates could be implemented in the context of a programmatically feasible European-led, or potentially European-only mission.”

With NASA no longer in the mix, ESA knew they would have to descope their proposed missions, and with costs needing to be at least 20% less than originally planned. “Needless to say, missions within these constraints must be significantly less complex than the original L mission concepts selected in 2007,” the report says.

ESA’s science goals for the front-runner JUICE mission is to visit the Jupiter system concentrating on the characterization of three possible ocean-bearing worlds, Ganymede, Europa and Callisto as planetary objects and potential habitats and on the exploration of the Jupiter system considered as an archetype for gas giants in the solar system and elsewhere. The focus of JUICE is to characterize the conditions that may have led to the emergence of habitable environments among the Jupiter’s icy satellites.

Sources: Dynamics of Cats, Planetary Society blog,

About 

Nancy Atkinson is Universe Today's Senior Editor. She also works with Astronomy Cast, and is a NASA/JPL Solar System Ambassador.

Olaf2 April 18, 2012 at 7:16 PM

ESA should start to take the lead and not wait on NASA any-more.

John Stock April 19, 2012 at 2:03 PM

I agree 100%.. Especially after the ExoMars debacle.

Joost Fianen April 18, 2012 at 7:37 PM

Happy to see that despite the current economical problems, people/organisations are working on large new missions for the next decade. Of course hard choices are made… But at least in the next decade our older generation and a new generation have a opportunity to be inspired by the discovery’s of JUICE. As we were by the CASSINI and GALILEO missions.

Joost

Torbjörn Larsson April 18, 2012 at 9:41 PM

Let’s see if they can squeeze JUICE out of a somewhat fruitful collaboration.

“This is a big blow to space based astrophysics,” wrote European science blogger Steinn Sigurdsson,

I feel for Steinn, who always blog on point. (Even if the insider info is mostly indecipherable for outsiders.) Seems he is “Still working on an analytic exact approximate solution to the herding problem” of ESA.

Grimbold April 18, 2012 at 10:03 PM

I’m disappointed at the contempt for high energy astrophysics.

???????? ???????????? April 19, 2012 at 12:08 AM

I don’t like it that science teams have to “fight” one another, on proposed new missions. The situation is bad enough for NASA with the proposed budget cuts and now ESA seems it might go through the same. Every scientific field of study is equally important. There is no “better” and “lesser” science. But on the field of high-energy astrophysics we already have Fermi in orbit, studying high-energy gamma rays. We have nothing on the potential habitability of Jupiter’s moons. Europa is just crying for exploration! So my vote would go on JUICE.

squidgeny April 19, 2012 at 12:23 PM

It is a shame, but as long as there is a finite budget there will always be competition between science teams. And the competition will be fierce, because jobs, careers, and places in history are at stake. It can get as ugly as a political campaign.

Duncan Ivry April 20, 2012 at 12:39 AM

“Every scientific field of study is equally important.”
Some people would say, that science serves human interests, that most human interests are not equally important, and that science has no privilege with respect to this. Really, why should scientists be free from having to compete for resources, whereas most other people have to?

Grimbold April 20, 2012 at 4:07 AM

With this cancellation there will likely be no X-ray astronomy whatsoever after about 2020, with the currently active X-ray satellites aging and no solid plans for any replacements. Saying, “Oh, but you still have Fermi” is like saying to a radio astronomer, “You’ve got this one telescope that looks at the 21cm line, everything below the far infrared is the same, you shouldn’t need any more than that.”, or to a planetary astronomer, “We’ve sent MESSENGER to Mercury, why would you need to look at Jupiter?”

kempmwoods April 19, 2012 at 6:27 AM

I believe the best bets for finding life in our solar system are to be found on Jupiter and Saturn—in their atmospheres and oceans. And please don’t tell me they have no oceans–I’ve researched the P/T phase diagrams to find that even for pure hydrogen scientists are not anywhere near sure of the phases, let alone the complex phases and compositions of planets such as these. And the quantity of water out there must be enormous–do you really think it’s all been converted to steam or converted to boiling metallic hydrogen? Ridiculous. That these misnamed “gas giants” are devoid of life is preposterous. Wake up people and use your logic and imagination—how could such huge, complex, and colorful planets be without atleast microbes–some thrown onto them from their moons no doubt(and vice-versa). And before you accept the barren gas giant model that seems to be the dogma nowadays, think of how life has altered the atmosphere, oceans, and even the geology of Earth. I like the idea of life on the moons too but it seems everyone has inexplicably dismissed the possibility of life on the “giants” proper. Why?
I would also point out that floating planetary probes on Jupiter and Saturn would probably be a lot cheaper than ice drilling mission to their moons. I have much more to say on this but will wait for some feedback first.

Daniel Street April 19, 2012 at 7:59 AM

baby steps. You get the craft that can look for life in jupter. not on But IN! thats a huge problem.

squidgeny April 19, 2012 at 12:39 PM

That these misnamed “gas giants” are devoid of life is preposterous.

I think that’s a bit extreme. We don’t know enough about abiogenesis to say with certainty that there is life anywhere but Earth.

Wake up people and use your logic and imagination—how could such huge, complex, and colorful planets be without atleast microbes

The gas giants are big because they accreted from a lot of material; they’re complex because they have intricate meteorological systems; they’re colorful because of their composition. None of these imply life. The Sun is also big, complex and colorful!

it seems everyone has inexplicably dismissed the possibility of life on the “giants” proper. Why?

If you accept that life can only be Earth-like (i.e. relying on water, using amino acids, etc), then Jupiter’s strong vertical atmospheric currents would drag any microbes between extreme pressures and temperatures. A microbe that evolved on a moon would not survive that, and one that evolved in-situ wouldn’t either, knowing what we know about Earth-like life.

If you accept that life is not restricted to being Earth-like (different elements, different solvents, etc), then it could be anywhere… but we don’t know that such life exists (whereas we do know Earth-like life exists) so funding a mission to look for it is a huge gamble.

squidgeny April 19, 2012 at 12:39 PM

That these misnamed “gas giants” are devoid of life is preposterous.

I think that’s a bit extreme. We don’t know enough about abiogenesis to say with certainty that there is life anywhere but Earth.

Wake up people and use your logic and imagination—how could such huge, complex, and colorful planets be without atleast microbes

The gas giants are big because they accreted from a lot of material; they’re complex because they have intricate meteorological systems; they’re colorful because of their composition. None of these imply life. The Sun is also big, complex and colorful!

it seems everyone has inexplicably dismissed the possibility of life on the “giants” proper. Why?

If you accept that life can only be Earth-like (i.e. relying on water, using amino acids, etc), then Jupiter’s strong vertical atmospheric currents would drag any microbes between extreme pressures and temperatures. A microbe that evolved on a moon would not survive that, and one that evolved in-situ wouldn’t either, knowing what we know about Earth-like life.

If you accept that life is not restricted to being Earth-like (different elements, different solvents, etc), then it could be anywhere… but we don’t know that such life exists (whereas we do know Earth-like life exists) so funding a mission to look for it is a huge gamble.

Torbjörn Larsson April 19, 2012 at 7:32 PM

- What squidgeny said on turbulence.
- Chemical evolution doesn’t seem to get very far on these worlds. Rather everything from asteroids and comets to ice moons and terrestrials are ripe with it.
- Cells are based on liquid chemistry and those we know of are based on liquid water. The phases you mention are not compatible with the organic chemical evolution necessary.

Gas giants is hence believed to be _the worst_ bet, bar the Sun itself.

- That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go looking. It means we should first go looking where we expect to find a) chemical evolution b) chemical evolution most informative on our own case of biosphere evolution (which we are most interested in).

Because, as the article implies, we are short on money for this.

- The first place to look, the really cheap and likely informative mission, is not Europe but Enceladus and perhaps Titan. Neither if those would necessitate drilling, the first wouldn’t necessitate a floater but something like the Stardust scopes and sample return.

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