The European Space Agency has selected the Jupiter Icy moons Explorer - JUICE - as its next large science mission.
JUICE will study three of Jupiter's moons - Europa, Callisto and Ganymede. It is believed that all three moons have internal oceans and a key objective of the mission is to study the potential for life.
Whilst this is the first mission to study the moons, it will be a long time before the study begins - the probe won't enter orbit around Jupiter until 2030.
JUICE will also study Jupiter's atmosphere and magnetosphere, and the interaction of the Galilean moons with the gas giant.
JUICE will visit Callisto which is the most heavily cratered object in the Solar System. It will also flyby Europa twice and measure the thickness of Europa's icy surface. The explorer will then enter orbit around Ganymede in 2032. JUICE will study the internal structure of the Ganymede including its subsurface ocean. Ganymede is known to have a magnetic field and data on this will also be gathered.
Ganymede is the largest moon in our Solar System with a diameter of 5,260 kilometres - larger than the planet Mercury - and circles Jupiter once every 7 days at a distance of approximately 1.1 million kilometres.
The mission will launch in 2022 from Europe's spaceport in Kourou, French Guiana, aboard an Ariane 5 rocket. The explorer will arrive at Jupiter in 2030 and spend at least three years making detailed observations.
JUICE - Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer. Credit: ESA/AOES
ESA's Science Programme Council confirmed the decision following the recommendation in April of its Space Science Advisory Committee.
The decision is the end of a long process to choose a large class mission, a process that began in 2007 when ESA requested proposals for a large class mission. The chosen mission has to meet the objectives of the agency's "2015 - 2025 Cosmic Vision" which provides an overall strategy and direction for all of ESA's space missions.
The Cosmic Vision has four broad themes:
Planets and life: what are the conditions for planet formation and the emergence of life?
The Solar System: how does the Solar System work?
Fundamental laws: what are the fundamental physical laws of the Universe?
The Universe: how did the Universe originate and what is it made of?
Callisto, Europa, Ganymede and Io were discovered by Galileo Galilei in 1610 and are known as the Galilean moons.