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U.S.-built radar to probe oceans on Jupiter's icy moons

Posted: February 27, 2013

NASA will provide key components for an ice-piercing radar aboard Europe's Jupiter orbiter, helping scientists resolve the thickness and internal structure of ice sheets covering the giant planet's moons Europa, Ganymede and Callisto.

Artist's concept of the JUICE probe. Credit: ESA/AOES
The U.S. space agency's investment will total approximately $100 million, including design, development and operations of the radar equipment, components of a particle detection payload, and an ultraviolet spectrometer to study the interactions between Jupiter, its atmosphere and the icy surfaces of its moons.

Europe's Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer will launch in June 2022 and arrive in orbit at Jupiter in January 2030. After a complex series of flybys of Ganymede, Callisto and Europa, JUICE will reshape its trajectory and slip into orbit around Ganymede, Jupiter's largest moon, in late 2032.

A dozen flybys of Callisto, the solar system's most cratered object, and two passes just above Europa are planned for JUICE's mission before the probe arrives in orbit at Ganymede.

NASA's participation in the radar instrument include construction and funding of the device's transmitter and receiver. The radar will be the first instrument to peer beneath the icy surfaces of Europa, Ganymede and Callisto, which scientists believe harbor liquid water oceans deep beneath their ice sheets.

The radar payload is led by Italian scientists, and the radar's deployable antenna will be built in Italy.

The radar's principal investigator is Lorenzo Bruzzone of Universita degli Studi di Trento in Italy

The European Space Agency selected the JUICE mission in May 2012 after a three-way competition against a a proposed X-ray astrophysics observatory and a gravitational wave detection mission.

ESA announced the experiment selections for JUICE on Feb. 21.

The spacecraft will include at least 10 instruments, plus a radio science experiment using the probe's telemetry signals for research purposes.

The payloads will come from 15 European countries, along with contributions from the United States and Japan.

ESA's budget for the JUICE mission is 830 million euros, or nearly $1.1 billion. Financial commitments from the agency's member states and international partners will likely push the project's total cost to nearly $1.5 billion.

Russia is also prospective partner on the JUICE mission. As an extension of a deal to collaborate on Europe's ExoMars missions to the red planet, the Russian space agency proposed launching JUICE on a Proton rocket. The Jupiter orbiter is currently set to fly on an Ariane 5 launcher.

Russia is also interested in building a Ganymede lander to fly as a piggyback payload on JUICE, according to European scientists.

Here is a complete listing of JUICE's instrument payload:

  • JANUS: Jovis, Amorum ac Natorum Undique Scrutator, camera system
  • MAJIS: Moons and Jupiter Imaging Spectrometer
  • UVS: UV Imaging Spectrograph
  • SWI: Sub-millimeter Wave Instrument
  • GALA: Ganymede Laser Altimeter
  • RIME: Radar for Icy Moons Exploration
  • J-MAG: Magnetometer for JUICE
  • PEP: Particle Environment Package
  • RPWI: Radio and Plasma Wave Investigation
  • 3GM: Gravity and Geophysics of Jupiter and Galilean Moons
  • PRIDE: Planetary Radio Interferometer and Doppler Experiment (note this does not include spacecraft hardware but will exploit VLBI - Very Large Base Interferometry - to conduct radio science)