A sounding victory was announced for NASA, after the Obama administration offered $18.5 billion for researching space travels and developing technologies. At the same time, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory from Pasadena, CA is buzzing with the scientists’ excitement, while preparing the final touches on the robotic mission concept’s design.
The mission’s destination is far, far away: Europa. The space mission is scheduled for mid-2020s, and Europa is the fourth largest satellite of Jupiter, a moon-like satellite covered in a shell of frozen water.
In addition to $100 million added by the Congress to NASA’s budget last year, the US space agency is requesting $30 million for exploratory studies for the mission to Europa. NASA has been observing Europa and preparing various mission concepts for almost 15 years. After a great many other concepts which have proved to be unsuitable in size and cost, senior research scientist Robert Pappalardo announced that the team may have found the right one; they named it Europa Clipper.
The Clipper concept includes a spacecraft orbiting around Jupiter, and venturing on multiple occasions around the Jovian moon Europa over the span of 3 years. Its primary mission predicts approximately 45 dives in Jupiter’s radiation belts, flying right over Europa’s surface. The main focus of the Europa Clipper will be constructing a complete map of the surface, facilitating the measuring of its habitable potential.
Under the thick icy crust of Europa, scientists believe there is a great body of water, kept liquid by tidal interaction with gases. Rough hypothesis estimate its size at three times the volume of water on earth – increasing the chance of existing organic life. Astrobiologist Kevin Hand thinks that, as far as we know, the ocean waters do not provide a harsh environment.
In comparison with Earth’s deepest point – the Marian Trench (11 km), Europa’s ocean is believed to reach up to 100 km. Following the same comparison, we know that some life was able to evolve in the cold dark waters of the Pacific Ocean, without the help of the sun, and scientists believe that the same process might be developing on Europa. The most important factor would be the chemosynthesis that might develop under the influence of thermal vents.
Kevin Hand explains that looking for life is not the primary object, but rather understanding the level of habitability on Europa, and searching for the indispensable ingredients for life.
Image Source: Solar Voyager
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