March 5, 2014
NASA Is Aiming For A 2015 Mission To Jupiter Moon Europa
Lee Rannals for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
Europa is an icy moon that scientists believe could hold an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust. If an ocean can be found underneath Europa’s crust, it means the moon could have conditions favorable for life. Essentially, where there is water there is a possibility for life to evolve.
The mission would include a radiation-tolerant spacecraft that would embark on a long, looping orbit around Jupiter to perform repeated flybys past Europa. NASA said the science instruments under consideration include radar to penetrate the frozen crust in order to determine the thickness of the ice shell, as well as an infrared spectrometer to investigate the composition of Europa’s surface materials.
The Clipper mission could also include a topographic camera for high-resolution imaging of surface features and an ion and neutral mass spectrometer to analyze the moon’s trace atmosphere.
NASA has sent other missions past Europa, including Galileo, but none of these spacecraft have concentrated specifically on the icy moon.
Scientists reported in the journal Science Express last December that the Hubble Space Telescope detected evidence of water vapor erupting from the moon’s surface. Evidence of the Europa plumes was first detected in December 2012 when Hubble’s imaging spectrograph found faint ultraviolet light from an aurora caused by Jupiter’s strong magnetic field.
NASA Europa scientist Robert Pappalardo told the Associated Press (AP) that NASA will look at competing ideas for a mission to the moon, and that the agency is not sure how big or how much the mission will cost.
The Obama Administration’s 2015 NASA budget request says it would like to see the US space agency fund a mission to fly by Europa and make detailed observations. This is the first time the White House has mentioned a Europa mission in its budget.
The 2015 budget also includes $848 million for the development of commercial vehicles to take American astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS), instead of having to rely on Russia. NASA Administrator Charles Bolden said that the funding request keeps the space agency on the path of sending humans to Mars in the 2030s.