January 27, 2009
Busy times for Outer solar system exploration
As you can see from my feature article, I am very much involved in the preparation studies for future space explo-ration of our Solar System. Besides Pluto (recently demoted to a dwarf planet to be studied NASA’s mission New Horizons), the two largest giant planets, Jupiter and Saturn (Zeus and Kronos for the Greeks…) are major targets for the coming years. Studies for two ambitious concepts were performed in 2008, one mission was called Tan-dEM/TSSM heading for Saturn’s system, and another was Laplace/EJSM, targetting Jupiter’s system, both evolving from the original proposals to ESA and NASA into fully-blown architectures for challenging science return in a col-laboration among the agencies that would have matched the excellent Cassini-Huygens achievements.
Because we can’t do everything and a space mission costs quite a lot of money (we are talking billions of $US…) one of the two systems was chosen for a space mission which will launch around 2022 and will arrive around 2030 in the jovian system…!!!
After the choice of the EJSM mission, NASA had to withdraw from the partnership and so ESA had the mission reformulated into the currently-selected concept of JUICE.
For more details on these studies and the targets, you could read the articles in 22 January 2009 Nature science magazine and some of the attached links…
I was European science Lead for the TandEM/TSSM mission and it was the most amazing experience I have had up to now, mostly because of the synergy of 150 scientists and engineers working together towards the concept described in my previous article.
I quickly became part of the Jupiter mission and had the pleasure to contribute to its formulation, definition and finally selection process by ESA.
Hereafter I describe a little more the ESA-led mission which will head for the Jupiter system in 2022.
JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE):
THE FIRST LARGE ESA COSMIC VISION MISSION
The Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) mission was recently selected by ESA as the first large mission within the Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 plan. It is being developed to address questions regarding the Jupiter system and its satel-lites, with a focus on the largest moon, Ganymede. By thoroughly exploring the system and thereby unravelling the history of its evolution, from initial formation of the planet to the development of its satellite system, we will gain a general understanding of how gas giant planets and their satellite systems form and evolve and of how our Solar System works.
The overarching theme for JUICE is the emergence of habitable worlds around gas giants taking into account the necessary conditions involving the simultaneous presence of organic compounds, trace elements, water, energy sources and a relative stability of the environment over time. JUICE will thus address the question: Are there current habitats elsewhere in the Solar System with such necessary conditions to sustain life? The spatial extent and evolu-tion of habitable zones within the Solar System are critical elements in the development and sustainment of life, as well as in addressing the question of whether life developed on Earth alone or whether it was developed or could develop in other Solar System environments. The focus of JUICE is to characterise the conditions that may have led to the emergence of habitable environments among the Jovian icy satellites, with special emphasis on the three ocean-bearing worlds, Ganymede, Europa, and Callisto.