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Innovative Approaches to Future Outer Planet Exploration -- Destination: Ganymede

References: R. T. Pappalardo, K. K. Khurana, and W. B. Moore

Artist's impression of Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter above Ganymede.
Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter is part of the joint NASA-ESA Europa Jupiter System Mission.

As outlined in NASA's February 18, 2009 announcement, the Europa Jupiter System Mission (EJSM) is a system-level investigation of the Jovian system that has been selected to illuminate the larger question of how potentially habitable planetary systems form and evolve.

Black and white image of Ganymede
Ganymede

With an estimated cost to NASA of $2.7 Billion (FY07) The EJSM will consist of two separate vehicles, one provided by NASA and the other by ESA, which will each launch (separately) in 2020 and arrive at the Jupiter system in late 2025 and early 2026.

Both the NASA-built Jupiter Europa Orbiter (JEO), and the ESA-built Jupiter Ganymede Orbiter (JGO) would utilize chemical propulsion. Venus and Earth gravity assists would speed each spacecraft onward for arrival at Jupiter only 6 years later.

Color illustration of Ganymede's magnetic field.
Magnetic Field of Ganymede

JGO is the ESA element of the EJSM. JGO will be built to accommodate the moderate radiation environment outside of Europa orbit. It would consist of a solar powered orbiter with 10 science instruments designed for remote sensing of Jupiter and the outer Galilean satellites including extensive mapping of Ganymede.

Prior to Ganymede arrival, JGO will intensely investigate Callisto from a resonant orbit, and make extensive observations of the Jupiter system to complement those of JEO. JGO's instruments will study dynamic phenomena such as Io's volcanoes and Jupiter's atmosphere. In addition, the orbiters will map Jupiter's massive magnetosphere and study how it interacts with its moons. The orbiters will also characterize any liquid water oceans, which are believed to exist beneath the ice shells of Europa and Ganymede.

Illustration showing interior layers of Ganymede.
Interior Model of Ganymede

Ganymede, the largest moon in the solar system, is the only moon known to have its own internally generated magnetic field and is suspected to have a deep undersurface water ocean. Since its discovery in 1995, scientists have sought to understand the causes and implications of the magnetic field.

Ganymede is also important as a logical destination for a detailed investigation around the gas giant Jupiter because of its diverse geological features, and its radiation environment is less harsh than that of Europa.

A study of Ganymede will contain broad science goals of surface, magnetosphere, interior, and atmosphere--and overarching themes of water and organics-- all of which tie to NASA's outer planet exploration objectives.

Implications

Gaining insight into the composition and volatile inventory of Jupiter and its moons will shed light on how planets and satellites accrete and evolve. Hence, a system-level investigation of the Jovian system will illuminate the question of how planetary systems form and evolve.

Color and black and white images of Ganymede.
Ganymede in infrared and visible light

Significance to Solar System Exploration

Gaining insight into the composition and volatile inventory of Jupiter and its moons will shed light on how planets and satellites accrete and evolve. Hence, a system-level investigation of the Jovian system will illuminate the question of how planetary systems form and evolve.

Last Updated: 21 January 2014

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Last Updated: 21 Jan 2014