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Europe Considers $1.1 Billion ‘Juice’ Rocket to Habitable Worlds

The European Space Agency will decide next week whether to launch an 830 million-euro ($1.1 billion) mission to explore habitable worlds around Jupiter.

A successful mission would enable scientists to learn more about Jupiter’s habitable moons, according to Imperial College of London space physicist Michele Dougherty, who spoke today at a European Geosciences Union press briefing in Vienna. The Paris-based agency is scheduled to decide on May 2.

The Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer, or “Juice” mission, would be “the first to send an orbiter to an icy world,” said Dougherty, who also leads the ESA’s mission-study team. “Juice will address the question whether there are habitats elsewhere in the solar system with the conditions to sustain life.”

The European satellite would orbit Jupiter’s Ganymede, the gaseous planet’s largest moon, for about three years beginning in 2030. Ganymede is the only moon in the solar system with its own magnetic field, along with an atmosphere and subsurface ocean. The Juice rocket would lift off in 2022 for the eight-year journey to Jupiter.

Europe’s space agency is in talks with the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration about sharing instruments on the Juice mission. A single instrument can cost 30 million euros and the array of measurement and tracking devices that would be loaded onto the orbiter aren’t included in the headline cost, Dougherty said.

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