Not unexpectedly, the European Space Agency announced yesterday that it’s next large mission will be the Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer (aka JUICE). There’s a piece in Physics World about the selection – and rejection of the other two contenders, NGO and ATHENA. Andy Lawrence has commented already on his own blog and is also quoted extensively in the Physics World article.

A lot of allegations are flying around about how the selection process was conducted, specifically relating to conflicts of interest. I don’t know any details, so I won’t comment on whether this is justified outrage or simply sour grapes.

Anyway, for what it’s worth, I think I agree with what Andy Lawrence says in the Physics World story in that the final decision was pretty inevitable after NASA’s decisions in the areas of gravitational waves and X-ray astronomy pulled the rug out from under the other contenders. I’ll also add that, although it’s far from my own specialism, I think JUICE looks like a very exciting mission. I wish it every success.

It just remains to be seen how long the recriminations will rumble on.


14 Responses to “It’s JUICE!”

  1. stringph Says:

    But JUICE won’t actually start producing results until AFTER 2030, and won’t get to Ganymede until 2033. With this kind of time lag how much excitement can really be sustained?

    • What is your point? Are you suggesting that since it will take a long time ESA shouldn’t bother doing it or should do something else instead?
      If so, when should we launch missions that will take a long time?

      Sorry if that was not your point (or if there is more nuance I am missing) but if it was, its a silly point.

      It’s something I have heard repeated quite a few times since JUICE became the frontrunner.

      • stringph Says:

        Because the other missions might have produced exciting science sooner?

        Part of the criteria on which the missions were judged was the projected time scale to launch. So, being able to get things done sooner rather than later was supposed to be important. If instead the criterion had been the projected time scale to obtain first scientific results, the decision might have been different.

        If two or more missions have widely different times between launch and first results, is it fair to judge them [on the timing criterion] only on the launch dates?

      • telescoper Says:

        Quite so. Just think of the decades that have been wasted looking for gravitational waves….

      • stringph Says:

        Well, to have a fair comparison of science goals, costs and risks: the main ‘excitement’ about going to JUpiters ICymoons is the supposed habitability to extraterrestrial life – though JUICE isn’t even going to have a lander, and it’s unclear whether it would be able to spot life under the ice. Whereas the main goal of NGO would be to see what’s happening to black holes in the centres of galaxies over most of the observable Universe – see eg

        The search for extraterrestrial life has been going on for longer, and already spent way much more money (think failed missions to Mars) and with more false alarms (think canals or bacteria on Mars) than the total of all gravitational wave projects. Looking for life anywhere else in the Solar System might turn out to be a complete waste of money, because there might not be any. But gravitational waves certainly exist. Comparing likely scientific return versus risk, cost, time and effort, GW is always going to beat aliens.

        If you just want to get a close up of Jupiter, we already had Galileo and NASA launched another mission last year (JUNO) that will follow in its footsteps. JUICE will do a bit more planetary science, and no doubt take a large number of nice pictures, but I don’t see how it is going to be qualitatively different from previous Jupiter missions.

      • ‘Because the other missions might have produced exciting science sooner? ‘

        which takes me back to my question: when should we launch missions that will take a long time to bring in data? Only doing missions that promise quick returns is silly and shortsighted.

        Your comment about the criteria has some merit, though my question would be why? If launch date was a criterion for science return purposes (which I would argue is a silly thing) then yes, you are right that JUICE would have fallen low on that measure. If instead it was a political point (PR even) to show that ESA can get missions up and out into space on a more regular timescale then maybe not.

        In terms of NGO (which has the potential to produce some exciting science) I have wondered why it was still being considered for selection before LISA pathfinder was launched. If you are going to spend resources and funds on a mission to test the feasibility of a later mission, why on Earth have the later mission in the race for selection BEFORE the pathfinder mission is launched?

        The alleged irregularities in the process that you have mentioned are much more serious and warrant investigation.

      • “Looking for life anywhere else in the Solar System might turn out to be a complete waste of money, because there might not be any. But gravitational waves certainly exist.”

        One could, and many people do, use precisely this argument to argue that it would be a waste of time looking for gravitational waves but the discovery of extraterrestrial life would be important because it would actually tell us something new.

      • Anton Garrett Says:

        Of course we should look for gravitational waves. Every aspect of a theory as fundamental as general relativity deserves to be mined, and it will tell us plenty about the conditions in which the waves were generated (as well as spur some remarkable technologies).

        Whether this should be a higher priority than some other experiments, I am too uninformed to comment. But it is worth distinguishing between SETI’s search for intelligent life and the hunt for complex organic molecules and perhaps monocellular life.

      • telescoper Says:

        I agree that gravitational wave searches are important, but the case for investing in space-based gravitational wave experiments will be much stronger when they’ve actually been detected, which should happen with ground-based experiments pretty soon.

        My earlier comment was facetious, of course. The fact that it has taken decades and we still haven’t found them yet hasn’t made everyone bored with gravitational waves….

      • Just to be clear, I agree with Anton that it is worth looking for the wavy gravy. I just wanted to point out that stringph seems to assume that everyone will follow the same logic whereas I see the possibility that one could use the same arguments to make the opposite point.

  2. Peter – NASA pulled the rug out from LAPLACE (pre-Juice) as well IXO and LISA. So that in itself didn’t pre-dispose in favour of Juice. It just forced a decision where previously we didn’t have to make one.

    • telescoper Says:

      I thought the point was that both IXO and LISA needed both ESA and NASA involvement to be worth doing; the de-scoped versions entered for this selection looked much less interesting than the original concepts.

      • hde226868 Says:

        I think if you look at the science cases for both NGO and Athena you will find that a lot of the original IXO/LISA science was preserved. I can speak more about Athena because it is close to what I am doing, and here a significant fraction of the observatory science (which is what made this mission interesting for many people) was also doable with Athena. Sometimes this would have required longer exposures, but that is a relatively small price to pay.

        If you look at the Juice science case and compare it to Laplace, things like the Europa lander are gone. It is more difficult to state what Juice will do in terms of science since there is only a strawman’s set of instruments (which ESA explicitly did not assess!). I think there will be a camera for pretty pictures, but what else will be on there is something we will only know in a couple of years….

  3. stringph Says:

    I think people involved with LISA or gravitational waves in general would disagree that NGO is ‘much less interesting’ and would be able to present a strong case for that view.

    Also, according to at least two professors I have heard from, the overwhelming issue with the selection process was that many of the NGO mission parameters being considered by the SSAC were unaccountably changed at the last minute to be less favourable.

    – SSAC made a science ranking and NGO was ranked first under the three most important criteria. But this ranking was omitted from the report.

    – The projected launch date was changed from 2024 to 2025 at the last minute (and previous studies had found that 2022 was feasible).

    – The estimated cost was unaccountably increased from about 850 million Euros to 1060 million.

    – The committee was told that this mysterious cost increase would have serious negative effects on future missions, when the difference would actually be swamped by future cost uncertainties.

    – The assessment of the technical feasibility of NGO was unaccountably changed to appear significantly more negative: for example “It is unlikely that a telescope system can be manufactured…” when no previous report had cast serious doubt on this system.

    To have last-minute, unaccountable changes that handicap one mission is a terrible way to make a decision, casts doubt on whether the process could have been a fair assessment, and also puts a shadow over future decisions. This is not just backbiting!

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