The European Space Agency (ESA) is shifting its focus to study Jupiter's icy moons and plans on launching a mission from Kourou, French Guiana, in 2022.
The spacecraft - dubbed Jupiter Icy moons Explorer (JUICE) - will arrive at the Jovian system sometime in 2030, where it is scheduled to spend at least three years making detailed observations.
As the ESA's Prof. Alvaro Giménez Cañete explains, Jupiter's diverse Galilean moons - volcanic Io, icy Europa and rock-ice Ganymede and Callisto - practically make the Jovian system a miniature Solar System in its own right.
With Europa, Ganymede and Callisto all believed to contain internal oceans, the mission will study the moons as potential habitats for life, addressing two key themes of Cosmic Vision: what are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life, and how does the Solar System work?
To answer the above-mentioned questions, JUICE will continuously observe Jupiter's atmosphere and magnetosphere, as well as the interaction of the Galilean moons with the gas giant planet.
The spacecraft will visit Callisto, the most heavily cratered object in the Solar System, and is slated to conduct two Europa flybys. JUICE will also make the first measurements of the thickness of Europa's icy crust, while identifying potential sites for future exploration.
JUICE is set to enter orbit around Ganymede in 2032, where it will study the icy surface and internal structure of the moon, including its subsurface ocean. As Ganymede is the only moon in the Solar System known to generate its own magnetic field, JUICE will observe the unique magnetic and plasma interactions with Jupiter's magnetosphere in detail.
"Jupiter is the archetype for the giant planets of the Solar System and for many giant planets being found around other stars... JUICE will give us better insight into how gas giants and their orbiting worlds form, and their potential for hosting life," added Cañete.