03/05/2012 06:15 BST | Updated 03/07/2012 06:12 BST

Jupiter Juice Mission Approved For Launch

Scientists from British universities including University College London and Leicester are to play a key role in a one billion euro (£812 million) space mission to explore the icy moons of Jupiter.

The Juice (Jupiter icy moons explorer) mission will investigate the possibility of "waterworlds" that may harbour life.

Its primary target is Ganymede, the solar system's biggest moon, which is 8% larger than the planet Mercury.

Ganymede is thought to conceal a deep ocean of salty water beneath a thick crust of ice.

It also has its own magnetic field, offering protection against Jupiter's powerful radiation belts, and an ancient surface littered with many types of crater.

The plan is to send a probe into orbit around Ganymede to study its sub-surface ocean and assess whether life could exist there. Juice is scheduled to launch in 2022 and will take eight years to make the long journey to Jupiter.

The mission, approved by the European Space Agency (Esa) at a meeting in Paris, will be the first European-led space mission to the outer Solar System.

British scientists make up four of the 15 members of the Esa science study team for Juice and are bidding to design instruments for the probe. Universities involved include Imperial College, Leicester and University College London.

Professor Andrew Coates, from University College London, a member of the Esa science study team, said: "Studying these watery worlds is the next vital step beyond Mars in the search for the conditions for life in our solar system."

Dr Emma Bunce, from the University of Leicester, said: "Ganymede is strongly coupled to its parent Jupiter through gravitational and electromagnetic forces. Studying this interaction gives us further insight into its unique place in the solar system."

See some great Nasa images of Jupiter below.