In the crucial search for life beyond Earth, some of Jupiter's major moons hold great potential, and Europe has decided to explore that potential in the upcoming years. The important thing right now is that their mission just hit a key milestone. On July 17, the European Space Agency stated that they were issuing a contract to award the U.S.-equivalent of $384 million to the European-based firm Airbus Defense and Space. Jupiter has turned out to be one of the most likely neighborhoods in our entire solar system with the exact elements for extraterrestrial life. That's because researchers have lately come to suspect that three of Jupiter's moons —Europa, Callisto, and Ganymede—could host huge oceans beneath their icy, outer surfaces. But to know if there are real microbial, or even shrimp-sized, aliens bathing on these moons will involve a mission unlike any yet attempted.
Under this newest contract, which ESA and Airbus are set to sign at the end of the summer, Airbus will be accountable for the development, launch campaign, testing, and in-space commissioning of ESA's "JUpiter ICy moons Explorer," or JUICE, mission. The JUICE mission is planned to launch in 2022 and reach Jupiter's system by 2030. After reaching the Jupiter’s system, the spacecraft will start flying over all three of the giant planet's water moons. The spacecraft will give a particularly close look at Ganymede — the biggest moon of Jupiter and, actually, the biggest moon in the entire solar system.
In March, a group of scientists using the powerful Hubble Space Telescope found solid indication to propose that Ganymede not only has water under its surface, but it could host a single, global ocean that is 60 miles thick and holds more water than all of Earth's oceans combined.
To find signs of life on Ganymede, as well as Europa and Callisto, ESA plans to send the JUICE spacecraft with a total of "10 state-of-the-art tools," counting:
Cameras that can take pictures of the surface in quest for any geysers that could be discharging organic-rich water off the planet into space.
Spectrometers, which can help researchers conclude the type of material, such as nitrogen or carbon that covers the surface.
Ice-penetrating radar, to measure how deep the oceans on these moons actually are.