NASA is making its next big mission a trip to Jupiter, launching the Galileo spacecraft to orbit and collecting data for the agency’s Kepler mission.
The mission’s launch is slated for late May, and NASA officials say the spacecraft will provide “significant data to the Kepler mission.”
Galileo is designed to find new planets around nearby stars that might harbor habitable planets, like Earth.
Scientists expect the spacecraft to make the first direct observation of Jupiter’s moon Europa, which lies about 70 million miles (110 million kilometers) from the planet.
Europa has a thin atmosphere and is thought to harbor liquid water on its surface.
It’s not clear whether the water on Europa’s surface is frozen or has a liquid ocean.
“This is an important milestone in our journey to explore our solar system and beyond,” said Chris Hadfield, deputy project scientist for the Kepler Space Telescope mission.
“This is where we are in the exploration of our Solar System.”
Galileo’s journey to Jupiter begins on the planet’s south pole, when the spacecraft is scheduled to enter a “period of high velocity,” according to a NASA press release.
At that point, the spacecraft’s speed will be slowed down, as Jupiter’s atmosphere is thinning.
Once in orbit, the Juno spacecraft will study Jupiter’s poles.
In the process, it will study the moon’s polar regions, which are where Jupiter’s gravity pushes the moon up and away from its equator.
Juno will also conduct an experiment called the Galileo-E, where the spacecraft would look for signs of geysers on Europa.
In these geyser-producing regions, the gravity of Jupiter pushes liquid water up and off of the planet, causing a phenomenon known as a “polar vortex.”
The Jupiter-E is scheduled for a 2016 launch, but it’s not expected to arrive at Europa until 2022.NASA plans to use the Galileo mission to study planets around other stars and to gather data on the atmospheres of these planets.NASA officials say they plan to use Kepler to look for habitable planets around Jupiter, which have a relatively thin atmosphere that allows for the formation of liquid water.
NASA says the mission’s goal is to “examine the formation and evolution of exoplanets,” including the evolution of rocky planets.
The mission also hopes to discover whether there is life on other planets.
The first mission to Jupiter was launched in 1989.
It was the first mission with the International Space Station, which launched in 2005.
The agency has since launched a series of other missions, including the Cassini mission, which orbited Saturn in 2006, and the Hubble Space Telescope, which orbits the planet in 2009.