NASA has high hopes for Jupiter’s moon Europa, and NASA has just dotted the spacecraft with i and crossed t, and then flew there to see if it can really sustain life. The Europa Clippers face a long journey. Jupiter’s elliptical path around the sun is much larger than that of Earth, but everything that can be found there may be worth it.
This is because, unlike the other planets and moons we see in the solar system, Europa shows signs of being very helpful in sustaining life. For example, there is twice as much liquid water there as on earth, which is more than a huge salty sea. Tidal heating makes it warmer and is expected to be stored with minerals in the moon’s rock formations.
In short, astronomically speaking, with potential places where life may develop and even prosper, Europa may become a relative safe haven at our doorstep. The Europa Clipper project is a method determined by NASA’s plan, and the agency confirmed that the spacecraft has now completed its critical design review. Before the final spacecraft is approved for construction, it is the process of evaluating the entire design, including everything from propulsion and scientific instruments to the required complex radiation shielding.
This design is not a simple design. Europa may have a lot of water, but it also occupies a particularly dangerous part of the space. The radiation levels are high and the surface temperature is low; this means that the Europa Clippers must not only be tough enough to survive these conditions, but they also need to carry sufficiently sensitive instruments to obtain the data required by NASA and its scientists.
On the surface, the plan is simple. After reaching Jupiter, the Europa Clippers will orbit the planet in an elliptical orbit, grazing near the moon each time to obtain readings. NASA explained: “Science includes collecting measurements of the internal ocean, mapping the surface composition and its geology, and looking for plumes of water vapor that may be expelled from the icy crust.”
Although the final design may only be approved now, the construction of many of the individual components that enter the spacecraft has been underway for some time. That’s because NASA has provided green lights for certain subsystems and instruments, such as high-gain antennas that are nearly 10 feet wide. That is the huge antenna that will be used to communicate with the earth and return the data collected by Europalipper.
Similarly, a solar wing with a length of 100 feet and an area of 960 square feet of solar panels is already under construction. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland is developing a propulsion module with 16 rocket engines, and the entire device will be assembled at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. There, computer hardware and shielded libraries that scientists hope to protect hardware and other components from radiation damage are being built.
There are many different tools onboard. Thermal imaging sensors will measure surface temperature, warm ice marks and surface roughness; NASA hopes to use this to develop future landers for Europa. In addition to measuring the depth and composition of the Europa Ocean, the magnetometer will also observe the direction, strength and time-varying nature of the magnetic field around the moon.
The Europa imaging system consists of two visible light cameras (one wide-angle and one narrow-angle), which can take high-resolution images of the surface. With a resolution of about 20 inches, they will be able to find evidence of recent or even current geological activity. Ultraviolet spectrometers have similar effects on ultraviolet light, while cartographic imaging spectrometers will collect infrared light and use it to discover the distribution of ice, salt, and organic matter.
Mass spectrometers will collect gas from around the moon and determine its composition, while plasma instruments will track things such as ice crust thickness, ocean depth, and ocean salinity. It will also be equipped with instruments for measuring surface dust and potential water and other particles scattered into nearby spaces. Finally, there will be a radar system that can penetrate ice for up to 18 miles in an attempt to find material below the sea surface.
Ironically, in addition to ensuring that Jupiter’s radiation is not a problem, the Europa Clippers must also take care that the musical instruments they carry will not conflict. Robert Pappalardo, JPL’s Europa Clipper project scientist, explained: “We are currently ensuring that all instruments can operate at the same time without electromagnetic interference.”
By the end of 2021, all components-from meters to solar panels and rockets-must reach JPL. Starting in 2022, the challenge will be to piece them together like huge, very expensive puzzles. The launch is expected to take place sometime in 2024.