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Emily LakdawallaFebruary 18, 2009

News flash: Jupiter flagship mission selected to launch first

NASA announced this morning the results of last week's meeting to determine which of two proposed flagship missions, one to study the Jupiter system including Europa and Ganymede, and the other to study Titan, should proceed forward. The result:

"National Aeronautics and Space Administration and European Space Agency officials decided to continue pursuing studies of a mission to Jupiter and its four largest moons, and to plan for another potential mission to visit Saturn's largest moon Titan and Enceladus."

Huh? What this meant wasn't immediately obvious to me -- in this sentence, it's a nuanced distinction, but later in the announcement it becomes clear that Jupiter is the mission that's going forward because it "was the most technically feasible to do first," but they still like the Titan mission so "both missions should move forward for further study and implementation."

The Jupiter mission will be a cooperative one between NASA and ESA. It is to consist of two separately launched orbiters, departing Earth in 2020 and arriving at the Jupiter system in 2026. NASA will build a Europa orbiter, and ESA will build a Ganymede orbiter.

For more detail on the proposals presented to the committee, here's the Europa Jupiter System Mission website, and you can visit Jason Perry's blog for some analysis.

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Emily Lakdawalla

Senior Editor and Planetary Evangelist for The Planetary Society
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