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ESA targets Enceladus in ambitious mission to Saturn
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ESA targets Enceladus in ambitious mission to Saturn
by Erica Marchand
Paris, France (SPX) Mar 27, 2024

The European Space Agency (ESA) has unveiled plans for an ambitious mission to explore Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, as part of its Voyage 2050 program. This initiative, which follows in the footsteps of previous missions like Juice, LISA, and NewAthena, aims to investigate the habitability of ocean worlds within our Solar System. Enceladus, with its subsurface ocean, geysers of water vapor, and potential for life, has emerged as a primary target.

A team of planetary scientists and engineers, tasked with evaluating the scientific and technical feasibility of such a mission, highlighted Enceladus's unique characteristics that make it a prime candidate for exploration. This includes the moon's icy plumes rich in organic compounds and its internal ocean, which meets key criteria for habitability: liquid water, a source of energy, and essential chemical elements.

ESA's plan involves launching a mission in the early 2040s that would leverage the Ariane 6 rocket, aiming to land a probe on Enceladus to directly sample its oceanic material. Such a mission promises to not only advance our understanding of the conditions necessary for life but also maintain Europe's leading role in planetary science.

The proposed mission would build upon the legacy of the Cassini-Huygens mission and the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (Juice), incorporating next-generation technology to study the moon's ocean and its potential for supporting life. This includes instruments capable of analyzing the biochemical composition of the collected samples in unprecedented detail.

In addition to exploring Enceladus, the mission would conduct a tour of the Saturn system, performing flybys of other moons and culminating in a close-up investigation of its target. This ambitious endeavor would also test and demonstrate new technologies for operating in extreme conditions, such as limited solar power, variable temperatures, and long-distance communication challenges.

ESA's focus on Enceladus underscores the growing interest in ocean worlds as potential habitats for life beyond Earth. The mission's findings could have profound implications for our understanding of life in the universe, highlighting the moon's role as a window into the conditions necessary for life's emergence and sustainability in the cosmos.

Research Report:ESA L4 Expert Committee report Voyage 2050 Moons of the Giant Planets

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