The proposals have been studied, the cool computer graphics have been shown, the votes are in and we have a winner: the next Great Big Space Mission will be heading for Jupiter, there to study the largest planet in the solar system and four of its most interesting moons: Ganymede, Callisto, Io, and of course, Europa.
The Europa Jupiter System Mission (EJSM) is also a great sign that Earth-side scientists are starting to get what any study of other planets should imply about "nations". The EJSM is a combination of two separate missions, the NASA Europa Orbiter and the European Space Agency (ESA) Laplace mission, as the space agencies start to pool their resources and work together. It would be kind of stupid to develop two entirely separate, incredibly expensive systems to solve the same problem because of a puddle on Earth. You know, like we did in all our previous missions up to this point Cold War.
The merged mission will consist of two orbiters, one built and launched by each agency. It'll take the twins six years to get there and begin their tour of some of the most interesting things in the solar system. The immense gas giant Jupiter, the magnetic fields and suspected subsurface sea of Ganymede, the impact-record of the early solar system scarring Callisto, the heated oceans of Europa, and of course the volcanic activity on Io.
This isn't a "no" for the Titan mission either, just a "not now." Faced with two possible space missions everyone wanted to say "both", but the billion-dollar budgets kind of put a crimp on such extravagance. The Titan Saturn Mission System will be kept on the cards for future funding cycles. As it features a co-ordinated orbiter, lander and even a super-science balloon, it will also be kept as an option for future Gerry Anderson series.
Posted by Luke McKinney.