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Home / Science / The Europa Clippers – NASA’s mission to find life on Jupiter’s Moon Europa – has just reached an important milestone

The Europa Clippers – NASA’s mission to find life on Jupiter’s Moon Europa – has just reached an important milestone



Europa Clippers spaceship illustration

NASA’s Europa Clipper (this picture was updated in December 2020) depicts an elliptical path around Jupiter, immersed in the vicinity of Jupiter Europa every time it flies to collect data. Image source: NASA / JPL-Caltech

JupiterThere may be life lurking on Europa’s moon. The spacecraft will use multiple moon flyovers to investigate the habitability of this ocean world.

Europa Clippers NASAThe upcoming flagship mission of the outer solar system has broken through an important milestone, completing the “Key Design Review”. During the review process, experts checked the detailed design of the spacecraft to ensure that it was ready to complete the construction. The task is now able to complete hardware manufacturing and testing, and is moving towards the assembly and testing of the spacecraft and its complex scientific instrument payload.

The heat pipe of the Europa Clipper

Technicians and engineers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory worked together on September 12, 2019 to bond the heat pipe to the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) built for NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft On the panel. The pipeline controls the temperature of the orbiter during operation. Image source: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Jupiter’s moon Europa has a total area of ​​the Earth’s internal oceans that is twice the total area of ​​the Earth’s oceans, so it has the potential to be suitable for living conditions. But the harsh temperatures and the constant impact of Jupiter’s radiation on the surface make it a tricky target: mission engineers and scientists must design spacecraft that are strong enough to withstand the radiation, but sensitive enough to collect and study the Europa environment. Science.

The Europa Clippers orbiter will orbit Jupiter along an elliptical path, immersing it near the moon every time it flies for detailed reconnaissance. The 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 ice crust.

Europa Clipper REASON tested on Mesa

Engineers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory tested an engineering model of a high-frequency (HF) radar antenna that forms part of NASA’s Europa Clipper radar instrument on December 17, 2019. The 59-foot-long (18-meter-long) antenna is held upright by a crossbar on the right tower. Image source: NASA / JPL-Caltech

According to the recently completed NASA rigorous review, the development of the spacecraft is progressing smoothly. The Critical Design Review delved into the planning details of all scientific instruments-from cameras to antennas-and flight subsystems, including propulsion, power, avionics, and flight computers.

“We have proven that our project system design is strong,” said Jan Chodas, project manager for Europa Clipper at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. “We complete the development of individual parts and integrate the plan together, and the function of the entire system will be designed to collect the scientific measurement data we need to explore the potential livability of Europa.”

Europa imaging system in operation

The engineering model used by engineers at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) (for testing on Earth) is part of the Europa Imaging System (EIS), which will be equipped with NASA’s Europa Clipper. He has installed the instrument’s wide-angle camera (WAC) detector electronics. Image credit: NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / Ed Whitman

Hardware in the project

In addition to the detailed plan, the task group also established prototypes and engineering models to test the operation of the instruments and engineering subsystems. Then there is the flight hardware itself. Most of it is already under construction. In the past year and a half, various engineering subsystems and instruments have cleared their own design reviews.

Faraday Cup ends

The payload of the scientific instruments used on the NASA Europa Clippers includes the Plasma Electromagnetic Sounder (PIMS). Scientists will use PIMS to study the characteristics of plasma around Europa to better understand the moon’s ice crust thickness, ocean depth, and ocean salinity. PIMS is built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. It consists of two instruments, each with two identical sensors called Faraday cups, used to measure Europa Plasma or charged gas in the ionosphere and Jupiter’s magnetosphere. The pictures in the APL clean room are the recently assembled Faraday cup sensors and instrument housings of two structures. On the left is the final flight hardware, with heat insulation pads installed. On the right is a test configuration used to protect sensitive hardware for transportation. Image source: NASA / JPL-Caltech

The most striking feature of the Europa Clippers, and its iconic elements are taking shape. The disc-shaped high-gain antenna with a diameter of nearly 10 feet (3 meters) is in the final stage of assembly. The antenna will receive commands from the earth and transmit scientific data downward. So far, the most obvious component of Europa Clipper’s hardware-a large solar array that is spreading like wings in deep space-is also under construction. The spacecraft’s array has been fully deployed, its width exceeds the length of a basketball court, and its span is 100 feet (30.5 meters). These arrays will cover an area of ​​960 square feet (90 square meters).

Europa Clippers Propulsion Module

On October 15, 2020, technicians at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center checked whether the cylinder at the core of the propulsion module of NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft is suitable. The stacked cylinders are equipped with propulsion capsules and rocket engines, and they will advance once the Europa Clipper leaves the earth’s atmosphere.Image Credit: NASA/Barbara Lambert

They will be connected to a propulsion module built by the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. The core of the propulsion module consists of two stacked cylinders. The two cylinders stand together nearly 10 feet (3 meters) high, and are equipped with propulsion tanks and 16 rocket engines. Once the Europa Clippers leave the earth’s atmosphere, they will advance. .

The huge cylinder embodies the cooperative effort required to put such a spacecraft together.They are built by APL and shipped to Joint police A system for installing piping for the heat redistribution system that will maintain thermal control of the spacecraft. These cylinders are then sent to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to install the propulsion subsystem. There are 400 welded connections, and each connection is X-ray inspected for quality control, which is the key to the successful installation of the propulsion subsystem.

APL is also building a telecommunications module for radio communication with the earth, as well as a radiation monitor to measure the size of the electronic explosion that hit the spacecraft during more than 40 Europa flybys.

At JPL, many elements of the flight system are being constructed, including a protective vault that shields important electronic hardware from Jupiter’s strong radiation. JPL is also building and testing avionics subsystems, which include flight computers, power switches and distribution hardware, flight software for scientific missions, and ground system tools for missions. Ground support equipment will also be built, which will be used to assemble and test Europa Clipper’s large flight hardware.

Jordan Evans, JPL’s Europa Clipper Deputy Project Manager, said: “This is a very exciting time for the team to see that the results of their work will enter Jupiter’s orbit within a few years.” “Even when faced with Coronavirus disease, The team is firing on all cylinders. Using work safety protocols, they perform the necessary work on the hardware, while the other members of the team complete the work at home. “

Exquisite suite

As this work progresses, the project leader continues to plan the scientific nature of the task. The spacecraft’s scientific instruments will measure the depth of icing, measure the depth of the internal ocean and its thickness and salinity, capture detailed color images of surface geology, and analyze potential plumes.

Plasma instruments on the Europa Clippers

In this photo, the plasma instrument calibration chamber of the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, reproduces the plasma environment encountered by PIMS and other instruments in space . The equipment in this laboratory simulates these environments with an ion beam that can reproduce the plasma energy range of Jupiter and Europa. Image source: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Scientists are particularly interested in what constitutes the surface of the moon. There is evidence that the materials exposed there are mixed together through the icy crust, perhaps from the ocean below. The Europa Clippers will also study the moon’s gravitational field, which will tell scientists more about how the moon bends when Jupiter moves toward the moon and how this action may warm the inner ocean.

“The work being done in Europe will change our perception of the diversity of the outer solar system world in ten years, and the life that may exist now or in the future, rather than in the distant past,” said Robert Pappalardo, a scientist at the Europa Clipper project, JPL.

Europa imaging system narrow-angle camera

The Europa Imaging System (EIS) Narrow Angle Camera (NAC) is included in the payload of NASA’s Europa Clippers’ scientific instruments. As shown in the figure, at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, the engineering model for the test instrument is installed on a two-axis gimbal mechanism, which can independently point to the NAC telescope. The model is covered by NAC telescope, electronic equipment, pan-tilt and cables, and covered in a thermal blanket. EIS can make breakthrough measurements and map most of Europa, which is Jupiter’s icy moon, with oceans under the crust, and previous missions can only be achieved in a small area. EIS data will provide new insights into the geological structure and processes of Europa and will be used to search for evidence of recent or current geological activity, including potential plume eruptions. Image source: NASA / JPL-Caltech

However, the more instruments carried by a spacecraft, the more interactions between them, and may affect each other’s operations. To this end, Pappalardo pointed out: “We are currently ensuring that all instruments can operate simultaneously without electromagnetic interference.”

The complete set of instruments will undergo extensive testing after reaching JPL in 2021. Early 2022 marks the beginning of assembly, testing and launch operations. The countdown has started.

“In less than a year, all the hardware components need to be in one place,” Jordas said. “We put all these components together to build a complete flight system, then test the fully integrated spacecraft and prepare it for launch.”

The team is working hard to prepare Europa Clipper for launch in 2024.

Europa imaging system wide-angle camera

The Europa Imaging System (EIS) wide-angle camera (WAC) is included in the payload of NASA’s Europa Clippers’ scientific instruments. Here, mechanical engineers at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, built engineering models of WAC telescopes and electronic equipment in the thermal vacuum chamber for environmental testing. Image source: NASA / JPL-Caltech

More information about the task

Missions such as the Europa Clipper contribute to the development of the field of astrobiology, which is an interdisciplinary study of transboundary variables and conditions that can understand life as we know it. Although the Europa Clipper is not a mission to detect life, it will conduct detailed reconnaissance of Europa and investigate whether the ice moon with an underground ocean is capable of sustaining life. Understanding the habitability of Europa will help scientists better understand how life on earth develops and the potential to find life outside the earth.

Managed by the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, JPL collaborated with APL to lead the development of the Europa Clipper mission, which is NASA’s Scientific Mission Committee in Washington. The Planetary Mission Planning Office of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, performs planning and management of the Europa Clippers mission.




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