Next Big Planetary Mission: To Jupiter and Its Moons

At a meeting last week between NASA and ESA, the two space agencies narrowed down the choices for the next big flagship planetary missons, which will be joint efforts between the US and Europe. A mission to Jupiter and its four largest moons will be the primary mission the two space agencies will focus on, while they continue to plan for another potential mission to visit Saturn’s largest moon Titan and Enceladus. The two missions, the Jupiter System Mission and the Titan Saturn System Mission, are the result of NASA and ESA merging their separate mission concepts.

“This joint endeavour is a wonderful new exploration challenge and will be a landmark of 21st Century planetary science,” said David Southwood, ESA Director of Science and Robotic Exploration. “What I am especially sure of is that the cooperation across the Atlantic that we have had so far and we see in the future, between America and Europe, NASA and ESA, and in our respective science communities is absolutely right. Let’s get to work.”

The Europa Jupiter System Mission would use two robotic orbiters to conduct detailed studies of the giant gaseous planet Jupiter and its moons Io, Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. NASA would build one orbiter, initially named Jupiter Europa. ESA would build the other orbiter, initially named Jupiter Ganymede. The probes would launch in 2020 on two separate launch vehicles from different launch sites. The orbiters would reach the Jupiter system in 2026 and spend at least three years conducting research.

Europa.  Credit: NASA
Europa. Credit: NASA

Europa has a surface of ice, and scientists theorize it has an ocean of water beneath that could provide a home for living things. Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, is the only moon known to have its own internally generated magnetic field and is suspected to have a deep undersurface water ocean. Scientists long have sought to understand the causes of the magnetic field. Callisto’s surface is extremely heavily cratered and ancient, providing a clear indication of a record of events from the early history of the Solar System. Finally, Io is the most volcanically active body in the solar system.

“The decision means a win, win situation for all parties involved,” said Ed Weiler, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. “Although the Jupiter system mission has been chosen to proceed to an earlier flight opportunity, a Saturn system mission clearly remains a high priority for the science community.”

The future Titan Saturn System Mission would consist of a NASA orbiter and an ESA lander and research balloon.

Both of these proposed missions will set the stage for future planetary science research. These outer planet flagship missions could eventually answer questions about how our solar system formed and whether life exists elsewhere in the universe.

Source: JPL

31 Replies to “Next Big Planetary Mission: To Jupiter and Its Moons”

  1. Nancy said; “At a meeting last week between NASA and ESA, the two space agencies narrowed down the choices for the next big flagship planetary missons, which will be joint efforts between the US and Europe.”

    At least we are seeing some real common sense for a change! All one space exploration should be multinational if only because at the simplest level it benefits all human kind.

    Brilliant, and more encouragement should appear in this regard.

    Note: The only sad thing is that 2026 seems too far away, and I am reaching an age where future missions will happen when I have shuffled of this mortal coil. (I don’t mind dying, it just what I’ll be missing out on that really disappoints me!)

  2. Phantom-great article-all sources of available
    technology and Nations should really check out the 4 large Jupiter moons, IMHO, if there is lifeforms found outside Earth, however primitive, it would probably be in Europa under the deep ice and greatly shielded from the Sun ,Jupiters’ radiation, cosmis rays. The other moons are vastly interesting in their own rights.
    To quiet the possible war-mongers or conspiracy freaks,-No- Russia will not annex
    Europa to be added to their Earths’ landmass.-No-Russia will not charge a toll
    for other countries to land vehicles on Europa!!-No-Russia will not send criminals
    to Europa to serve out their terms of punishment!!!

  3. Salacious- I am nearing 58yo, 17years makes it 75,unless I croak out or get hit by a meteor rock , I will still follow the progress of
    space exploration, and glad there is finally a consortium of nations to share resources and expertise in-order to explore space. Unless you are indeed much older than me, you sound like a pessimist on your lifespan.
    In 2026 you may still be on the ‘net, perhaps very crabby but still very much alive lol.
    Take care

  4. Robbi said:

    “To quiet the possible war-mongers or conspiracy freaks,-No- Russia will not annex
    Europa to be added to their Earths’ landmass.-No-Russia will not charge a toll
    for other countries to land vehicles on Europa!!-No-Russia will not send criminals
    to Europa to serve out their terms of punishment!!!”

    Well, then – what’s the point of going to Europa?!

    Some day it won’t be nations that will annex the Solar System, but corporations once they make utilizing space proftable. They will be the ones grabbing up all those riches.

    Look at all the ice and liquid water Europa has – a world the size of our moon with a global ocean maybe 60 miles deep! And if it has life, don’t tell me some corporation won’t find a way to exploit for the biochemical market.

    You and I may want space “preserved” for science, but the folks who will be footing the bills for missions out there will be wanting something a bit more than pretty photos and magnetic field data.

    Let’s be honest, we have not come that far from the era of the conquistadors who plundered the New World for gold at the request of their financiers. And with the Solar System, there won’t be any Native Americans to worry about. And they definitely won’t worry about a few Martian microbes or Europan jellyfish. They will literally own those worlds and be beyond the grasp of any Earth-based controlling group.

    It will be a New Frontier, to be sure.

  5. Timmy- Actually, I look forward to what the Russian mission will find on Europa.
    All nations and level-head persons knows
    such thinking of taking over another world is
    dumb thinking and serves no purpose.
    We need all the help from all capable nations to explore our Solar System-Jupiters 4 moons are a great place to really find out what is there.

  6. Timmy- I have to add, any lifeform, however primitive, should remain on where it was found. To bring any lifeforms found on another world of our Solar System to Earth could be a disaster as we may hot have any immunity to the possible disease it may possess. Even in the most secure quarantine site, eventually, accidents will happen.

  7. The thing I like the best about this is that they actually approved *both* mission concepts. The Jupiter mission will go up first, but a Saturn mission will probably follow relatively quickly. That’s just super.

    The thing I like the least is the total absence of plans for anything going to Uranus or Neptune. To both would be a bit difficult, given the current orbital configuration (which tends to get worse and will remain bad for many, many years), but I’d love to see a mission to one of them before I become worm food. Particularly to Neptune: that Triton iceball out there seriously itches my curiosity.

  8. The Jupiter mission to Europa is going to be quite a feast of new knowledge-of all the worlds outside of Earth,Europa is most likely to harbor lifeform-perhaps primitive or even more complex as it has liquid water perhaps 20-50miles under the ice. Comets blasted thru that crust from time to time, does not take long to lose all traces of impacts. The thick ice shields such lifeforms from the intense radiation of Jupiter, and pretty much mutes radiation from the Sun, cosmic rays.
    If any lifeforms are found there, it should stay there! On Earth, it is true there was wide-spread mass deaths from diseases introduced to distant areas of the world, but, none of them are 100% effective in killing everyone as some people, for whatever was in ther genes,dna, was not affected(somehow, they were decended from the areas where the people are immune to such diseases) . To bring any possible lifeforms from Jupiter would be another thing to bring to Earth, leave that possible lifeform there!!!

  9. Jorge-the only consolidation is they have a
    mission to Pluto when it used to be planet #9.
    Neptune or Uranus, these unfortunately will appear to be something to think about in 2-3 generations due to the planets orbital configurations

  10. Check out Piers Anthony’s “bio of a Space Tyrant” series. In it he lays out the parceling of the Solar system to various countries/world powers, a bit interesting.
    The only way we will see the “riches” of harvesting the solar systems raw material is if the whole planet gets behind the space movement. Humanity is far too short sighted for that right now, and once our immediate self gratification takes a back seat to “the whole” we will be able to make the sorts of decisions that can lead us out there. Sadly evolution takes place in conditions where a species is challenged in it’s ability to survive it’s environment. So our best hope for becoming a spacefaring species is for life(earth) to become so hard on earth(life) that we must change our ways just to live. The technological wisdom we have acquired must also be retained and re thought under a new consciousness, combined with all other (metaphysical, and the work of Viktor Schauberger, etc.) built upon and purified to a real UNIFIED theory of everything, not just Physics by itself. The more breakthroughs we make in areas such as quantum and string theory, the more reasonable it is to consider the paranormal a possibility. Check out ORMUS that stuff really makes me say huh? One can take the “butterfly flapping it’s wings and causing a hurricane on the opposite side of the globe” saying a step further and suggest that the butterfly flaps it’s wings and a galaxy across the universe is born? Not a rant but a ramble. love, you all.

  11. Timmy Says:
    February 18th, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Brave New Worlds, eh?

    Salacious B. Crumb Says:
    February 18th, 2009 at 1:37 pm

    Note: The only sad thing is that 2026 seems too far away, and I am reaching an age where future missions will happen when I have shuffled of this mortal coil. (I don’t mind dying, it just what I’ll be missing out on that really disappoints me!)

    Tell me about it! I’m beginning to contemplate this sort of thing and I’m only 27! I’m so hungry for these missions that I know there will come a time when they announce a new mission 15 years into the future and I’ll be thinking ‘Damn it! I’m gonna be dead just when all of the good stuff is gonna be coming in!’. It’s all good stuff of course, but that doesn’t stop that niggling feeling…

    Someone invent a way to stick our mind into a computer or robot already. Like in ‘Diaspora’ by the inimitable Greg Egan.

  12. (Putting on pessimist hat) This is going to get the nuclear nut jobs screaming again. To my knowledge, we don’t have any way to power a big craft like this so far away from the sun without RTGs. And given how much people screamed when Cassini was launched, I think it’s only fair to assume that people are going to try even harder this time to keep these two missions on the ground. You can’t imagine how disappointed I will be if these missions don’t launch because people are afraid of putting RTGs in space.

    (Putting on optimist hat) I can’t wait for this to launch. I have been waiting for a Cassini scale mission to Jupiter ever since Cassini arrived at Saturn.

  13. Max Fagin Says:
    February 18th, 2009 at 7:35 pm

    “This is going to get the nuclear nut jobs screaming again.”

    Man I hate those anti-nuclear nut jobs. We’ll just have to scream louder…

    Anyway – New Horizons launched with an RTG, and there wasn’t too much hoohah about that (I think). Maybe it’ll be the same again… one can only hope.

  14. I would absolutely love to see every planet enjoy the same sort of research and scrutiny we have placed on Mars. A combination of active surface missions and overhead surveillance would be the way to go and the only way I see it happening honestly is through cooperative projects throughout the worlds various space agencies. It is one goal and one ambition that all of humanity stands to gain from substantially.

  15. “One of the most annoying critters in the galaxy, Salacious B. Crumb”…” The beak-nosed pot-bellied miscreant had a habit of breaking into a nerve-wracking cackle whenever the mood struck his flighty little brain. The creature had a knack for mimicry, and would pester many by constantly repeating what was said to him. ”

    Hang in there Sal, where would we be without ye, it’s only 17 years, they will be launching about my 98th birthday and I expect to continue reading your rants about my (our) bad spelling until then.

    Take care

  16. The blotches on Europa bring to mind the fossil of an impact event – perhaps two or more strikes. Has anyone investigated this notion? Does this notion have any testable predictions? Does it have any interesting implications for life – or otherwise – in the hoped for oceans beneath the crust?

  17. If there is life remember, it won’t be anything the same as on Earth, but nothing too different. Any life found means we are that much closer to disproving religion.

  18. We did have a Cassini-style mission at Jupiter; the only problem was the high-gain antenna on the probe, otherwise Galileo was cut from the same cloth.

    And yes, while the Grand Tour alignment happens only every 180 years, there are gravity-assist possibilities with Jupiter-Uranus every 14 years, and Jupiter-Neptune every 13. The reason we’ll be waiting another two or three generations to seriously explore planets 7 and 8 is not celestial mechanics, but earthbound priorities.

  19. Nobody sugested otherwise, Todd. The problem lies in going to both, Voyager style. That won’t be possible for many, many years.

    Still, the logical next step in planetary exploration, after flybys, is an orbiter mission. So if we really wanted to go to Uranus or Neptune, we wouldn’t find much use for a Grand Tour aligment anyway. Unless we wanted another flyby. There’s still much to be learned from flybys, even with spacecraft tuned for other light and radiation environments, as New Horizons proved when it flew by Jupiter.

  20. Todd, I was going to add, if there is something quite promising on the 4 large moons of Jupiter and Saturns’ Titan, Enceladus, resources were going to be prioritzed for those areas. I didn’t know about the relatively short time from now for possible gravity assists to Uranus and Neptune-but you helped by saying there are also earthbound priorities.

  21. Timber- I am so happy you are still always exploring things, and seen alot of history.
    I’m glad you didn’t go into a state where people much younger sits on a rocking chair and watch the grass grow or paint dry as their hobby, excerising the brain keeps us iyoung at heart about things. I may be nearly 58yo,and will keep at it till I croak. I had to force my older brothers to learn how to mess with the’puter as they at first had the deal ‘ can’t teach an old dog new tricks’ well, that changed as although we are 90-100 miles apart, we see and talk with each other thru the net daily. .Salacious, well, I have a feeling I’ll run into him in London in 2026 and he’ll show me his ‘ranch style manor cottage-about 4645 sq meter (50k sq feet) 1 story job with 12 meter ceilings because he doesn’t like to climb stairs and got it through ‘investments’ in 2012 Lol , I’ll tell him I have a penthouse on 5th avenue New York about 1858sq meters(20k sq feet) I also got it through ‘investments in 2012 lol .I always
    enjoy every day and try to reach for the stars.
    Take care

  22. Personally, I would love to see Uranus and Neptune orbiters. There’s no reason to think the moons there are any less promising than Enceladus. Orbiter missions would have different challenges from Galileo and Cassini.

    Uranus’s problem is no large moon to crank orbit adjustments. Ion propulsion would seem to be indicated for a mission there. Or a substantial patience for gravity assist with mid-size ice moons. My hope would be a Uranus orbiter launch by the mid to late 30’s to catch the equinox (2049) and map the satellites while their poles are perpendicular to the sun. If we miss that window, any Uranus orbiter will have to spend a lot more fuel to normalize a probe’s orbit.

    Neptune will be interesting as Triton orbits retrograde. Would mission planners send a Neptune orbiter to a retrograde orbit to tag along? Would the small moons ion regular orbits have any interest to scientists? Targeting Nereid on the way in: an interesting challenge.

    I suspect that New Horizons will be the last flyby spacecraft launched in the current space age. We have the technology to put probes in orbit, and a repeat of Voyager wouldn’t seem to be all that attractive.

  23. Todd, I hope they can send orbiter missions to both Uranus and Neptune, their Moons are amazing!! Miranda is ‘out of this world’ and the possibility of having perhaps >100 moons
    around Uranus. Miranda still sticks out in my
    mind as the craziest appearing object.
    Neptune is strange,Triton is wierd, Nereid and Proteus is incredible.
    These outer giants are very interesting in their own rights, and hope funding will be found to send orbital missions to both planets.

  24. Well, the problem is: for a mission to be sent in the ’30s, it should begin preparation no later than 2020 or thereabouts. That’s a mere 10 years from now, and I don’t even see mission ideas being put forth. I’m not optimistic.

    As to the interest, well, if we learned anything from Cassini it’s that there are always surprises around the corner. These days everyone is focused on the moons of the two big boys, but I’m pretty sure scientists would be just as interested to see what’s really around Uranus or Neptune.

    I’m not that sure about flybys. Say there is another mission to some Kuiper Belt object. To Eris, say. Or to that Haumea oddball. Two great targets for a probe, if you ask me. That would probably be a flyby, because to optimize voyage times the probe would be travelling too fast for orbit insertion in such small bodies. And it could fly by one of the ice giants on the way there, just as New Horizons did with Jupiter. One of the good things of these robotic explorers is that they are always used to do some science on the way to their prime targets.

  25. Thanks robbi, I don’t believe in Alzsheimers.

    Just finished planting 600 wine grape vines, first good bottles on my 90th birthday, everyone is invited to my party.

    Recently ordered a 24″ mirror from Steve Kennedy, for my new obs, another year or so for that.

    Don’t know what’s next.

    Clear skies

  26. Timber-awesome, 600 great grape vines, the best!!! You must live in a nice area with little
    light pollution or have good filters also,, a 24″
    mirror or 609.6mm, talk about a light bucket!!
    I really respect senior citizens that are active and always trying to reach for the stars as that is the best way to enjoy life and I like to communicate with them about historical events as they are the true sources of what happened compare to what is written in books or E-books by someone who did not
    witness history first hand or was there!!!.
    I’ve talked with people near my age who had also retired but they had hardly no hobby,I said learn something new , otherwise, your
    brain will rot!! lol. But this is true!!!
    I assume your 24″ scope will be permanently based unless you go to ‘star parties’ lol
    I went the easy route by having a 14″ S-C scope with ‘puter controls and wireless so I can also view from indoors on my 30″ or 26″ FP monitors
    Take care

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