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University of Leicester Team Joins NASA Jupiter Mission


A University of Leicester team is involved in a newly-selected NASA mission to Jupiter due to be launched in 2010.

The mission, called Juno, will now proceed to preliminary design phase - it is the second in NASA’s New Frontiers Program.

The mission will conduct a first-time, in-depth study of the giant planet. The aim is to place a spacecraft in a polar orbit around Jupiter to investigate the existence of an ice-rock core; determine the amount of global water and ammonia present in the atmosphere; study convection and deep wind profiles in the atmosphere; investigate the origin of the Jovian magnetic field; and explore the polar magnetosphere.

Professor Stan Cowley, Professor of Solar-Planetary Physics at the University of Leicester, said: “Juno will focus on studies of the internal structure of Jupiter - through gravity and magnetic field observations - the deep atmosphere, and polar magnetosphere-ionosphere coupling and the auroras. “I was asked to become a co-investigator on this mission through the now-famous theoretical and modelling work we have done at the University of Leicester during the last five years on the electric current systems that flow between Jupiter’s upper atmosphere and the radiation belts, and their connection with Jupiter’s auroras.”

In addition to Professor Cowley, the outer planets research team working at Leicester includes Dr Emma Bunce - Lecturer in the Space Research Centre and PPARC Post-Doctoral Fellow; Dr Jon Nichols - PPARC Research Fellow; Research students Caitriona Jackman and Sarah Badman. Members of this team are also involved in the magnetic field experiment on the Cassini spacecraft, to understand the large-scale nature of Saturn’s magnetic field. "We are excited at the prospect of the new scientific understanding and discoveries by Juno in our continued exploration of the outer reaches of our solar system during the next decade," said Dr. Ghassem Asrar, deputy associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate.

At the end of the preliminary design study, the mission must pass a confirmation review that will address significant schedule, technical and cost risks before being confirmed for the development phase. Dr. Scott Bolton of Southwest Research Institute, Boulder, Colo., is the Principal Investigator. NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., will provide mission project management. Lockheed Martin Space Systems in Denver will build the spacecraft.

NASA selected two proposed mission concepts for study in July 2004 from seven submitted in February 2004 in response to an agency Announcement of Opportunity. "This was a very tough decision given the exciting and innovative nature of the two missions," Asrar added. The selected New Frontiers science mission must be ready for launch no later than June 30, 2010, within a mission cost cap of $700 million.

The New Frontiers Program is designed to provide opportunities to conduct several of the medium-class missions identified as top priority objectives in the Decadal Solar System Exploration Survey, conducted by the Space Studies Board of the National Research Council.

The first NASA New Frontiers mission will fly by the Pluto-Charon system in 2014 and then target another Kuiper asteroid belt object.

Ather Mirza | alfa
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