Friday, April 14, 2017

NASA Approves Instruments for ESA’s ‘JUICE’ Mission

Juice, the JUpiter ICy moons Explorer mission, in the Jovian system. Credit: ESA/AOES

NASA’s partnership in a future European Space Agency (ESA) mission to Jupiter and its moons has cleared a key milestone, moving from preliminary instrument design to implementation phase. Designed to investigate the emergence of habitable worlds around gas giants, the JUpiter ICy Moons Explorer (JUICE) is scheduled to launch in five years, arriving at Jupiter in October 2029. JUICE will spend almost four years studying Jupiter’s giant magnetosphere, turbulent atmosphere, and its icy Galilean moons—Callisto, Ganymede and Europa.

The April 6 milestone, known as Key Decision Point C (KDP-C), is the agency-level approval for the project to enter building phase. It also provides a baseline for the mission’s schedule and budget. NASA’s total cost for the project is $114.4 million. The next milestone for the NASA contributions will be the Critical Design Review (CDR), which will take place in about one year. The CDR for the overall ESA JUICE mission is planned in spring 2019.

“We’re pleased with the overall design of the instruments and we’re ready to begin implementation,” said Jim Green, director of the Planetary Science Division at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “In the very near future, JUICE will go from the drawing board to instrument building and then on to the launch pad in 2022.”

JUICE is a large-class mission—the first in ESA’s Cosmic Vision 2015-2025 program carrying a suite of 10 science instruments. NASA will provide the Ultraviolet Spectrograph (UVS), and also will provide subsystems and components for two additional instruments: the Particle Environment Package (PEP) and the Radar for Icy Moon Exploration (RIME) experiment.

The UVS was selected to observe the dynamics and atmospheric chemistry of the Jovian system, including its icy satellites and volcanic moon Io. With the planet Jupiter itself, the instrument team hopes to learn more about the vertical structure of its stratosphere and determine the relationship between changing magnetospheric conditions to observed auroral structures. The instrument is provided by the Southwest Research Institute (SwRI), at a cost of $41.2 million.

The PEP is a suite of six sensors led by the Swedish Institute of Space Physics (IRF), capable of providing a 3-D map of the plasma system that surrounds Jupiter. One of the six sensors, known as PEP-Hi, is provided by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, and is comprised of two separate components known as JoEE and JENI. While JoEE is focused primarily on studying the magnetosphere of Ganymede, JENI observations will reveal the structure and dynamics of the donut-shaped cloud of gas and plasma that surrounds Europa. The total cost of the NASA contribution to the PEP instrument package is $42.4 million.

The Radar for Icy Moon Exploration (RIME) experiment, an ice penetrating radar, which is a key instrument for achieving groundbreaking science on the geology, is led by the Italian Space Agency (ASI). NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), in Pasadena, California, is providing key subsystems to the instrument, which is designed to penetrate the surface of Jupiter's icy moons to learn more about their subsurface structure. The instrument will focus on Callisto, Ganymede, and Europa, to determine the formation mechanisms and interior processes that occur to produce bodies of subsurface water. On Europa, the instrument also will search for thin areas of ice and locations with the most geological activity, such as plumes. The total cost of the NASA contribution is $30.8 million.

How will JUICE complement NASA’s Europa Clipper multiple flyby mission, also scheduled to launch in the early 2020s?

“The missions are like close members of the same family. Together they will explore the entire Jovian system,” said Curt Niebur, program scientist at NASA Headquarters. “Clipper is focused on Europa and determining its habitability. JUICE is looking for a broader understanding how the entire group of Galilean satellites formed and evolved.”

Niebur says by examining the complexity of the Jupiter system, we will learn more about how habitable areas form in our solar system and beyond. “We’ve learned that habitable environments can arise in surprising places and in unexpected ways. Life may not be limited to the surface of Earth-like worlds orbiting at just the right distance from their suns.” 

Credit: NASA

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