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Russian space agency considers Jupiter mission
by Olga Zakutnyaya
Moscow, Russia (Voice of Russia) Jul 24, 2012

Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) project.

The European Space Agency (ESA) is starting preparations for a mission to Jupiter. The Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (JUICE) project, approved for implementation in 2022, is to explore the giant planet and its icy satellites: Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. Russian scientists are considering the possibility of participating in the mission, but the implementation of these plans depends on the previous planetary program.

Lee Fletcher from JUICE's Oxford University scientific group presented the objectives of the Jupiter exploration, utilizing the European JUICE spacecraft, at the Scientific Assembly of the International Committee on Space Research (COSPAR) in Mysore, India. The ESA's JUICE mission - a reduced version of the more ambitious EJSM project - was chosen as the L-class mission (L meaning "large") within the framework of the Cosmic Vision program.

The Europeans are not facing an easy task. Initially, the EJSM project included two satellites: the ESA's JGO was meant for exploring Jupiter and Ganymede, while NASA's JEO is intended for exploring Jupiter and Europa. The Japanese were also going to participate in the mission with their equipment for studying Jupiter's magnetosphere. At the same time, there was a possibility of a detailed study of both the planet's satellites and Jupiter itself.

Since 2005, spacecraft only occasionally visited the largest planet of the Solar system on their way to other destinations: Cassini was headed for Saturn, while New Horizons for Pluto. It was just recently that the American Juno spacecraft aimed at studying the atmosphere of the planet was sent to Jupiter. Thus, JUICE is designed to close the gap in exploration of the major planets.

The difficulty lies in the fact that one spacecraft is to examine Jupiter and its three satellites: Europa, Ganymede, and Callisto. According to the present ballistic scheme of the expedition, the exploration of Jupiter, including its high latitudes, should take 26 months, and after that the spacecraft should change orbit and explore the satellites.

The task of searching for traces of potential life or substances supporting it on the satellites was widely discussed. Yet Jupiter itself is nonetheless interesting, as it represents a natural space laboratory for studying fluid dynamics.

In this case, while Juno will study the deeper layers of the atmosphere, JUICE will focus on the upper layers, both vertical (energy transmission, convection, and cloud formation study) and horizontal (processes on different latitudes, polar regions, and their connection with the magnetosphere and the polar lights).

Another question for studying is variations of the atmosphere. Devices working in the wide range of electro-magnetic radiation (from ultra-violet to radio range) and possessing a wide spatial and temporal resolution are needed for the implementation of these tasks.

Russia is interested in the JUICE project to some extent, and two years ago, when the EJSM project was under development, Russian scientists suggested joining the program with their spacecraft aimed at landing on Europa. At the same time, the Russian mission was mainly interested in the NASA spacecraft aimed at Europa's preliminary exploration.

In its present condition, JUICE does not include the spacecraft's long stay near Europa. That is why Russia has to review the plan of the mission: it should either send a spacecraft to conduct research on the spot, or to send a mission to Ganymede, which is considered to be less promising from the point of view of finding traces of life or conditions for its existence there.

However, it should be understood that sending a lander to the Jupiter system is an extremely difficult project, and not much time remains for its implementation. The next launch as part of the Russian planetary program is scheduled for 2014.

It is the joint Russian-Indian Luna-Resource project, which also includes the Russian lander. Then, as it has recently been voiced by the Russian Space Agency, there are plans for some ten scientific missions up to 2018. Among them is a further study of the Moon.

The question is whether or not it is compatible with a flight to Jupiter. On the one hand, the international agencies' practice shows that along with the smaller-scale missions, larger "flagship" projects are constantly being developed. The Jupiter mission could become such a large-scale project for Russia.

On the other hand, perhaps, it would be more prudent for Russia to choose a gradual recovery of the space industry accompanied by more frequent, but less complex launches, and consistent development of various systems.

Source: Voice of Russia


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