NASA has confirmed that the Europa Clipper is entering its next phase. Now, researchers and engineers will complete the final design stage and move to the construction and testing of the entire spacecraft and science payload.
Backpacking through Europa
“We are all excited about the decision that moves the Europa Clipper mission one key step closer to unlocking the mysteries of this ocean world,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“We are building upon the scientific insights received from the flagship Galileo and Cassini spacecraft and working to advance our understanding of our cosmic origin, and even life elsewhere.”
The Europa Clipper mission will investigate Jupiter’s moon Europa, looking especially for signs of life. It will also give us the data to finally determine whether Europa is clad in a thick ice shell, or if it does indeed harbor liquid water beneath the surface.
Europa is no larger than Earth’s moon. However, its close proximity to Jupiter could heat up the moon’s interior and ocean (if it has one). As tides raised by Jupiter in Europa’s ocean rise and fall, they may cause cracking, additional heating and even venting of water vapor into the airless sky above Europa’s icy surface.
The mission will send a highly capable, radiation-tolerant spacecraft that will perform repeated close flybys of the icy moon from a long, looping orbit around Jupiter.
In order to develop this mission on a budget, NASA aims to have the Europa Clipper spacecraft complete and ready for launch as early as 2023. However, their baseline commitment places the launch readiness date sometime in 2025.