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8.1.4 The JUICE mission to Jupiter

In this video, John Zarnecki discusses the advances in space instrumentation over the past few decades. Increased sensitivity, low size and low mass are key improvements.

The JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) mission is intended to be launched by the European Space Agency (ESA) in 2022. If the launch is successful, the spacecraft will arrive in the neighbourhood of Jupiter in 2030. It will initially focus on Europa and Callisto and finally it will orbit Ganymede for several months to obtain detailed images of the surface from an altitude of just 200 km.

Callisto, Europa and Ganymede are all suspected of having oceans below an icy surface, so ice-penetrating radar will be used, giving an indication of the character of the subsurface environment and whether liquid water really lies beneath. The scientific emphasis of the mission will be on trying to understand the habitability of each of these moons and the possibility of it hosting microbial life. Being so far away from the Sun is an irrelevance, given that tidal forces from Jupiter could provide the energy to melt the ice under the surface.

JUICE will contain a suite of instruments including optical cameras, spectrometers, sub-millimetre wave instruments, laser altimeters and radar. Countries from around Europe will supply different parts according to funding and expertise.

Work at the e2v centre for electronic imaging (CEI), based at the Open University campus in Milton Keynes is being done in preparation for the JANUS optical camera system. JANUS is designed to study global, regional and local morphology and processes on the moons and perform mapping of the clouds on Jupiter. The imaging detectors being used will need to withstand long-duration radiation damage from the space environment, particularly from charged particles concentrated by Jupiter’s magnetic field (which is one reason why JUICE will not spend any time close to Io, the innermost Galilean moon).

You can discover more information about the work carried out at the centre for electronic imaging [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

JUICE passed its ESA review and was approved for implementation in November 2014.

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My interest and speciality is building instruments that go into space, specifically to measure the physical properties of interesting places. So that means, generally, the surfaces of planets or satellites and their atmospheres, and to measure the physical, rather than the chemical properties. If we look at some of the instruments that flew 30 years ago, for example, to us now, I would describe them as clunky. They're rather big, they would seem cumbersome. I mean, they did wonderful measurements. But we can make them generally more compact, which means we can fly more instruments. They have more sensitivity and I guess they're more reliable. So it's really a matter of continual refinement and improvement, miniaturisation, sophistication.
In the world of icy moons research, the next big thing is a mission called JUICE, which stands for Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer. It's just been selected by the European Space Agency. It will be launched in 2022. It will arrive at Jupiter in 2030, put that year in your diaries. And this is really exciting, it's going to target in particular, Europa, Callisto, and especially Ganymede, which is the largest moon in our Solar System. And this mission will do a series of manoeuvres in the Jovian system, but it will culminate in orbiting around Ganymede for several months. And the final orbit will take you just 200 km above the surface. Now we believe that Ganymede, perhaps like several of the icy moons, possesses a subsurface watery ocean. With very sophisticated instruments, including ice-penetrating radar, we hope to be able to confirm the existence of these large bodies of water below the surface.
Well of course one of the great interests in finding water is the tantalising possibility that these might be habitats for life. We're not talking perhaps about very developed life, we're talking about primitive, simple life. But still, if that were to be confirmed, or at least initially, we would just be confirming the existence of these environments. But they're potentially environments which could harbour life, and that would be fascinating.
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