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Planning a trip to Jupiter at Berlin

Updated Friday, 30th March 2007

Dave Rothery attends a conference in Berlin to plan the European Space Agency mission to Jupiter in 2020.

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Berlin 28 March 6.30 pm

That was a long day. I arrived in Berlin yesterday, and have spent all day at DLR (German Centre for Air- and Spacetravel) representing UK research interests at a meeting to plan for a European Space Agency mission to Jupiter in about the year 2020. The neighbourhood of the venue is a strange area, near the outskirts of the old East Berlin. The building and street names read like a lexicon of famous 19th and 20th century scientists: Einstein, Fahrenheit, Fraunhoffer, Leibnitz, Schrödinger… but DLR is on a street commemorating Ernest Rutherford, the Brit who proved the structure of the atom.

There are colleagues here from the Czech Republic, France, Italy, Holland and Belgium as well, of course, as several Germans. We all know that Europa – Jupiter’s moon with an ocean below a thin layer of ice – is the main target for the mission, because it could very well harbour life, but our task on this working group is to agree on ‘bonus science’ that can be done on Jupiter’s other satellites.

I had 15 minutes to make my plea for repeated long-range imaging of Jupiter’s volcanically active satellite Io, and then to describe various camera systems, dust detectors, X-ray mappers and magnetometers that research groups in the UK would wish to contribute to the mission. There are far more desirable science goals than it seems likely we will be able to achieve with the small payload available on the Jupiter-Europa mission, and tomorrow we will have to thrash these out between us. It may end up with discouraging news for some would-be instrument teams that we rank their devices as too low a priority to be included, but then there are 3 other working groups that may have different views.

All this is on hold for now. Tonight we are meeting at the S-bahn station to travel into central Berlin for a meal.

Io Creative commons image Icon Flying Singer under CC-BY licence under Creative-Commons license
FlyingSinger produced this image of Io and Jupiter in Orbiter using NASA textures.

Berlin 29 March 4.00pm

That was a good night out – Spanish food and German beer. At one point the conversation strayed into a discussion of whether the pace of technological progress would make our planning for space missions 20 or 30 years hence redundant.

Back to work at 9.00am, and the delicate business of defining science objectives. I break into a splinter group with two others, to begin listing the types of measurements necessary to map the surfaces of Europa and the other satellites in a way that will tell us how they formed and whether there in any geological activity or even life hidden deep inside. It goes more smoothly than I expected. In about a month’s time, when the reports of the other working groups have been assembled and combined, an announcement will be released inviting groups to propose instruments that can meet the tasks we have identified.

Now it's time to head for home, and tell my colleagues how it all went.





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