NASA seeks external concepts for mission to oceanic Jovian moon

Apr 29, 2014 by Dwayne Brown
This image shows two views of the trailing hemisphere of Jupiter's ice-covered satellite, Europa. The left image shows the approximate natural color appearance of Europa. The image on the right is a false-color composite version combining violet, green and infrared images to enhance color differences in the predominantly water-ice crust of Europa. Credit: NASA/JPL/DLR

(Phys.org) —NASA has issued a Request for Information (RFI) to science and engineering communities for ideas for a mission to Europa that could address fundamental questions of the enigmatic moon and the search for life beyond Earth.

The RFI's focus is for concepts for a mission to Europa that costs less than $1 billion, excluding the launch vehicle that can meet as many of the science priorities as possible recommended by the National Research Council's 2011 Planetary Science Decadal Survey for the study of Europa.

"This is an opportunity to hear from those creative teams that have ideas on how we can achieve the most science at minimum cost," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for the NASA Science Mission Directorate at the agency's headquarters in Washington. "Europa is one of the most interesting sites in our solar system in the search for life beyond Earth. The drive to explore Europa has stimulated not only scientific interest but also the ingenuity of engineers and scientists with innovative concepts."

NASA has studied a variety of mission designs and concepts in previous years and currently is funding the development of technologies that will be needed for the science instruments for a Europa mission. Congress appropriated $80 million for this work in Fiscal Year 2014, and the Fiscal Year 2015 budget proposal requests an additional $15 million.

Previous scientific findings point to the existence of a located under the moon's icy crust. This ocean covers Europa entirely and contains more liquid water than all of Earth's oceans combined.

The Decadal Survey deemed a mission to the Jupiter moon as among the highest priority scientific pursuits for NASA. It lists five key science objectives in priority order that are necessary to improve our understanding of this potentially habitable moon.

The mission will need to:

• Characterize the extent of the ocean and its relation to the deeper interior

• Characterize the ice shell and any subsurface water, including their heterogeneity, and the nature of surface-ice-ocean exchange

• Determine global surface, compositions and chemistry, especially as related to habitability

• Understand the formation of surface features, including sites of recent or current activity, identify and characterize candidate sites for future detailed exploration

• Understand Europa's space environment and interaction with the magnetosphere.

Although Europa and Jupiter's other moons have been visited by other spacecraft, they were each limited to a single distant flyby of these satellites. NASA's Galileo spacecraft, launched in 1989 by the space shuttle, was the only mission to make repeated visits to Europa, passing close by the moon fewer than a dozen times.

In December 2013, NASA's Hubble Space Telescope observed water vapor above the moon's frigid south polar region. This provided the first strong evidence of water plumes erupting off the moon's surface, although researchers are still working to verify the existence of these plumes.

Any mission to Europa must take into account the harsh radiation environment that would require unique protection of the spacecraft and instruments. In addition, spacecraft must meet planetary protection requirements intended to protect Europa's potentially habitable ocean. These requirements are very strict and involve ensuring that a viable Earth organism is not introduced into the Europa ocean.

The RFI is not a request for proposal or formal procurement and therefore is not a solicitation or commitment by the government. Deadline to submit the concepts is May 30.

Explore further: NASA plots daring flight to Jupiter's watery moon

More information: To view the RFI in its entirety, visit: go.nasa.gov/1lp693R

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HannesAlfven
1.2 / 5 (10) Apr 29, 2014
The answers to these questions can actually be determined by simply hearing out debate over astrophysical and cosmological theories. What is particularly worrying here is that -- without doing that -- this expensive mission will be designed based entirely upon the assumption of a subsurface ocean ... and in the event that one is not found, the data collected will fail to clarify why that is.

Although the budget issues certainly add to the complexity, the bigger problem is the inability amongst astrophysicists and cosmologists to consider competing paradigms. They currently imagine that they can simply ignore anything which disagrees with their worldview, or starting hypotheses. And that is a direct result of the way that they are taught in the graduate programs. It unfortunately seems that we must have some sort of colossal mission failure before this lesson will be learned.
antialias_physorg
4.6 / 5 (10) Apr 29, 2014
So lemme get this straight: Your idea then would be to outfit the probe with instruments that are unlikely to be used because they would look for 'paradigms' that are unlikely (or, in your case: already disproven)?
I.e. we'd waste all the money on a junk shot? Is that what you are proposing? Really?
HannesAlfven
1 / 5 (10) Apr 29, 2014
Re: "Your idea then would be to outfit the probe with instruments that are unlikely to be used because they would look for 'paradigms' that are unlikely (or, in your case: already disproven)?"

How does one disprove a cosmology? I think it's time that you explain this right now.
HannesAlfven
1 / 5 (10) Apr 29, 2014
Re: "we'd waste all the money on a junk shot? Is that what you are proposing? Really?"

What I'm proposing is that astrophysicists and cosmologists should design scientific social networks for mapping out scientific controversies, in order to better understand which of these claims are worth further investigation.

What is happening today is that astrophysicists refuse to read journals which publish ideas which they disagree with. That's a questionable stance when we are contemplating investing a billion dollars into a mission which has been questioned by one of their most outspoken critics.

From http://forums.ran...tcount=8

"As far as I am concerned, any paper published on this topic [of galactic mechanics] in IEEE Transactions on Plasma Science should be ignored" -- Tim Thompson

So, the question which everybody should be asking is: Why then would anybody consider him to be a good critic for the Electric Universe?
HannesAlfven
1.1 / 5 (10) Apr 29, 2014
And what this naturally leads to is the isolation of the astrophysical community from their critics. Consider what is happening with the interstellar matter, for instance: We have radio astronomer, Gerrit Verschuur, publishing paper after paper showing in clear detail that the interstellar matter is commonly filamentary and helical, and even exhibits critical ionization velocities.

But, since they have justified for themselves that they need not listen to their critics, they simply continue to call these filaments "clouds" ... or "elephant trunks", in some cases. And they never feel the need to even acknowledge the existence of the CIV's.

They call it science, but all they've done here is to create a society which simply values ignoring critiques which ask questions they don't approve of. Then, they come to us and ask for a billion dollars to go prove their theories.

Honestly, I don't shed a tear for cutting the funds. Map out the arguments first, as any rational person would.
HannesAlfven
1 / 5 (10) Apr 29, 2014
Tim Thompson will hedge and weave his way to justifying for himself and his peers why it's okay that they all cultivate ignorance of alternative physical models which threaten their knowledge. And then they present themselves to the public as worthy critics of a subject which they have put so much effort into ignoring.

The end result is that places like wikipedia favor the Astrophysical Journal over its critics. And the public does not know about the critiques, nor that they are based upon a culture which values ignorance of its critiques.

And it is based upon this perception, then, that there are no critiques out there, that the public supports such missions to find life in a lake which might not even exist.

But, it's not that critiques don't exist. It's that they have been systematically ignored and shouted down, without ever learning the physical model that they come from.
HannesAlfven
1 / 5 (8) Apr 29, 2014
Here's a question: If the Electric Universe strives to apply our observations of plasmas within the laboratory to our astronomical observations, then how would a person who ignores IEEE publications ever understand the EU's physical model sufficient to critique it?
barakn
4.6 / 5 (9) Apr 29, 2014
What's truly bizarre is that even in EU there doesn't seem to be any reason why Europa shouldn't have an ocean. This is just Hannes tilting at windmills again.
HannesAlfven
1 / 5 (9) Apr 29, 2014
This is what happens when you ignore people: Your ability to understand their physical model breaks down. Had you guys actually read their materials, you'd know that the keyword you are looking for is "rille", and from there, you could Google "europa rilles".

Here is the first hit that Google gives me (may differ for you):

From http://www.rense....ropa.htm

"The model assumed a global ocean beneath the ice so that tidal bulging on Europa could reach nearly 100 meters (330 feet) at maximum ...

In order for cracks to form, the computer model required a maximum ice sheet thickness of about a kilometer. But some of the surface channels cut by the loops are several kilometers deep. Had the computer program included this fact it would have broken down immediately. But the manipulated data gave the desired result, enabling science writers to complete the circular logic: the model became "a powerful argument that an ocean of water underlies Europa's crust"."
HannesAlfven
1.2 / 5 (10) Apr 29, 2014
What's funny is that if any of you guys were to ask Tim Thompson what the Electric Universe's physical model was, I'd put my money on his response ...

"They don't have one"

You guys really want it both ways:

(1) You want to be able to ignore your critics, but then ...

(2) You want to be able to suggest that you are the expert on their claims.

Outside of astrophysical circles, in the real world, people realize that they cannot do both. If they want to critique something, they have to study it. If they want to ignore something, then people who are concerned about accuracy refrain from critiquing it.

This is how people who mean very well can actually do great harm in this world. Honestly, the world expects more of NASA and the astrophysical community. It's not me that you guys should be focused on: People should be worried about spending a huge sum of money on a mission that fails. The reason why alternative ideas are considered is to hedge the bets through emergence.
Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
5 / 5 (10) Apr 29, 2014
@HA: "The answers to these questions can actually be determined by simply hearing out debate over astrophysical and cosmological theories."

Geophysics and astrobiology, especially as relating to Europa, has very little to get from astrophysics and cosmology. Meanwhile, the "debate", peer reviewed work, is "heard out" daily in academic sites such as journals and universities. That has been ongoing for centuries, so it seems quaint to freak out about that not happening.

If the current, well researched (magnetometry, plume observations and their similarity to Enceladus, many observations of plate tectonics in the ice) but still somewhat open theory of Europa's geophysics is wrong, we will have learned a lot. Probably more than if the ocean is there.

Your trolling valuable and well established science, as well as inability to contribute to it, is pitiful.

"Science. It works, bitches." [ http://xkcd.com/54/ ]
Maggnus
4.2 / 5 (10) Apr 29, 2014
So, the question which everybody should be asking is: Why then would anybody consider him to be a good critic for the Electric Universe?
No, the question that everyone should be asking, in this comment stream, is why anyone should take seriously the complaints of a person who is willing to post quote mining in an effort to misrepresent and trivialize the position of a well known plasma physicist.
TopCat22
2.7 / 5 (3) Apr 29, 2014
a submarine type probe that is nuclear powered and with a high heat external skin power by nuclear power. It simply melts its way through the ice which will freeze over it. As it descends it leaves a network of antennae that can relay radio to the surface. When it reaches the ocean it works like a submarine rover able to run a nuclear powered engine like submarines do one earth.
Returners
1.4 / 5 (5) Apr 29, 2014
You know, a space craft could be partially or completely self-sterilizing by using an arm with a plasma pencil to kill microbes on the surface of the lander, before the lander detaches from an orbiter.

I'm not sure what a lander could do that an orbiter can't do, except maybe take small ice core samples a few meters deep and slice them up for analysis, but this seems trivial since the orbiter can see most of that material anyway. I doubt any "life" would be in the top several meters of ice anyway, due to ridiculously unfavorable conditions.

Some other ideas:

1, Use a mass driver to collide with the surface of ice in a planar area to see whether ejecta is similar or different to what comes out of the vents.

2, Prepare a probe to intentionally fall down one of the crevices and transmit findings back into space. here you might be able to get better discovery on novel chemistry than the orbiter could do, and without the technical expense of a lander w/ core samples.

Returners
1 / 5 (4) Apr 29, 2014
a submarine type probe that is nuclear powered and with a high heat external skin power by nuclear power. It simply melts its way through the ice which will freeze over it. As it descends it leaves a network of antennae that can relay radio to the surface. When it reaches the ocean it works like a submarine rover able to run a nuclear powered engine like submarines do one earth.


The energy required to melt the ice at those temperatures is probably more than the craft can handle.

I do find it humorous that NASA doesn't seem to even know what types of science they actually want to do, though I can't imagine what else you'd do with a lander other than experiments to determine whether there is a large scale liquid ocean, and how deep it really is.

Maybe land a bunch of solar powered seismometer robots on the surface, like 4 on the equator and at least one each significantly north and south of the equator. In this way you could track "ice quakes" and density variation.
GSwift7
4 / 5 (4) Apr 29, 2014
To Hannes:

NIce wall-o-text. tldr.

In regard to the actual article, and the people here who are seriously interested in a mission to europa:

I think the radiation and EM data are critical for us, as well as characterizing the surface conditions. I would suggest both a long-term orbiter for hi-res mapping and some kind of stationary lander. They could boot-strap on technology already deployed at Mars, with an orbiter modeled after Mars Recon Orbiter and a lander based on the Phoenix platform. The instruments are of inconsequential cost compared to designing the rest of the spacecraft. I can't imagine keeping the cost under a billion without using some existing design. Not to mention that phoenix was meant to be a somewhat universal lander platform, so it might be adaptable to a Europa landing. Forget about a lander without an orbiter, because you can't count on transmitting directly from the surface, so it's an orbiter for sure, and maybe a cheap lander, if any.
GSwift7
4 / 5 (4) Apr 29, 2014
Now that we've had a bit of time to take a more detailed look at Mars, look at all the things we found there that we didn't expect. There are a ton of things on Mars that we need to get a better look at, probably from the ground, such as the features that appear in the summer.

With that in mind, imagine what we might find when we take the same kind of look at other places, such as Europa.

In terms of the Grand Scheme of Things, Europa is probably an important place to examine, simply because it is a solid icy body. Those seem to be quite common in our solar system, and I think it is safe to assume we aren't unique in that characteristic. So, by learning about the solid icy bodies here, we can infer things about them elsewhere, as well as compare/contrast between the different icy bodies here. I'd love to know how Europa and Pluto are similar and different, for example.

I'm also curious if super low temp ice and nearly zero surface air pressure might offer us alternative energy there
GSwift7
4 / 5 (4) Apr 29, 2014
To Returners:

Sterilization isn't that big of a deal. It's just a process that has to be thought of in the proposal, which rules out some ideas, but it's not a big deal.

An orbiter alone can't see details smaller than it's pixel resolution, and it also can't know for sure what it is seeing in a lot of ways (When you look down, you're looking through the entire atmosphere, for example). A lander in combination with an orbiter is a powerful tool because you can use the lander to callibrate what the orbiter is taking pictures of from space, and then you know what you're looking at in other places on the surface when you photograph them. For example, if you photograph Earth from space, you're seeing all the layers of the atmospere, and you don't know what is at the surface. If you have a lander, then you know what's at the surface, and you can subtract that, then you know everything else you see must be in the middle space between the surface and your camera. That's a powerful tool.
GSwift7
3 / 5 (2) Apr 29, 2014
Returners again:

Maybe land a bunch of solar powered seismometer robots on the surface


The sun is a tiny dot in the sky at Europa/Jupiter. It's difficult for humans to imagine how much farther Jupiter is from the Sun than we are. It seems like it shouldn't be that much different, since it's the next one out past Mars, but that's deceptive. There's a LOT of empty space between Mars and the asteroid belt, and then another great big gaping lot of empty space between the belt and Jupiter. Jupiter is actually WTF out there, especially when you remember that the power of sunlight diminishes exponentially with distance away from the sun.
antialias_physorg
5 / 5 (3) Apr 30, 2014
It simply melts its way through the ice which will freeze over it.

It may be not so simple.
If the stuff is not all pure ice but dirty (i.e. interspersed with grit or rocks) then you'll get stuck in no time. And once in the ice you can't really maneouver around. The only way is down.

There have been such probes that reel out a spool as they go along (which uses less space/material than dropping antennae - also a lot less susceptible to failure.)
These probes are either warmed by nuclear decay or a surface laser that feeds the laser power through an optical wire to the probe (VALKYRIE). Tests of such concepts are ongoing.
http://en.wikiped.../Cryobot
I like the laser idea, as it eliminates the possibility of (nuclear) contamination and also because you aren't limited to have your energy source fit inside the probe.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Apr 30, 2014
(VALKYRIE). Tests of such concepts are ongoing.
http://en.wikiped.../Cryobot
Well well. Excellent research. Saves me the 2 minutes of doing it myself.

"... it is predicted that the outer crust of solid ice is approximately 10–30 km (6–19 mi) thick, including a ductile "warm ice" layer, which could mean that the liquid ocean underneath may be about 100 km (60 mi) deep"

-But there may be thin spots. Perhaps the best this first probe can do is map the ice and search for organics on the surface.

I like the laser idea, as it eliminates the possibility of (nuclear) contamination
Oh horrors. That NUCLEAR stuff again. If europa oceans are anything like ours, then

"Uranium is a constituent of water owing to the weathering of uranium containing rocks, in particular granite. Roughly the concentration of uranium in seawater is 33 mg per cubic meter"

-So I really dont think the europaeans will mind all that much.
TheGhostofOtto1923
3 / 5 (2) Apr 30, 2014
Europa is probably an important place to examine, simply because it is a solid icy body
But we dont know if its water is solid ice or not. The favored position is

"the liquid ocean underneath may be about 100 km (60 mi) deep"

-which a little research would have told you. It also btw "primarily composed of silicate rock", with a metallic core.
Jupiter is actually WTF out there
-And yet solar power is still being used at that distance.

"NASA's Juno spacecraft is heading for the planet Jupiter this week with a novel energy source for a deep space probe — solar power — making it the farthest robotic space traveler to run on sunlight, scientists say."
TopCat22
1 / 5 (2) May 01, 2014
nuclear power is the way to go. get the hull of the probe red hot and it will swim though the ice even 30 km deep. The issue is mainly how to radio info back. Small antennae every km left in ice that can relay signals as a network (each with mini nuclear powered batteries) to get back out to orbiting modules.
TheGhostofOtto1923
1 / 5 (1) May 01, 2014
nuclear power... hull of the probe red hot
Read the thread before you post. You could find where science is already working on this.
not all pure ice but dirty (i.e. interspersed with grit or rocks) then you'll get stuck
On that wiki page you posted was a link to this

"IceMole can change its direction and can be recovered after being used. A driving ice screw allows the probe to drill through soil layers and other contaminations in the ice."

-Icemole is also maneuverable.

One way may be a variant on project Orion:
http://en.wikiped...pulsion)

-A submersible probe with driller sub-probes armed with micro-nukes which would be sent ahead to create liquid-filled voids for the probe to swim through. This would allow the a probe of substantial size to reach the ocean.

Nukes WILL be used on planets and moons to create caverns for air, water, and fuel storage and for habitation.
http://en.wikiped...ct_Gnome
barakn
4 / 5 (4) May 01, 2014
Hannes, you were right. EU does not like the Europan ocean idea. David Talbott writes "When ice cracks, the fracture typically propagates at the speed of sound. But to match Europa's slow rotation, the computer model required something never observed -- an ice fracture propagating at a walking speed of about 3 kilometers per hour." One obvious mistake here is that Talbott assumes that the fracture happened continuously and slowly. The fracture may have occurred in fits and starts, small lengths breaking open at much higher speeds and then momentarily pausing when the crack reaches thicker spots of ice. But more importantly, Talbott has gotten a fundamental fact of physics plain wrong. The "speed of sound" (Rayleigh wave speed) is merely an upper limit for the fracture speed (and one that can be broken, see for example http://www.facult...aham.pdf ).
barakn
4 / 5 (4) May 01, 2014
Speeds slower than the Rayleigh wave speed are well studied (see http://www.gps.ca...l11b.pdf ). And the icing on the cake - crack propagation in Arctic pack ice has been measured to be an ORDER OF MAGNITUDE SLOWER than the Rayleigh wave speed (see http://www.ncbi.n...10923875 ). This last study was available for 5 years before Talbott wrote his article, but he remained ignorant of it. I am weighing whether critiquing the rest of Talbott's work is worth it. It's likely full of equally shoddy work.
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (3) May 04, 2014
So, the question which everybody should be asking is: Why then would anybody consider him [Tim Thompson] to be a good critic for the Electric Universe?
@Hannes
it's simple. Mr. Thompson uses physics and proven empirical data to debunk EU. this has been proven on this site more than once, and in various threads. Not speculation or conjecture, nor adherence to outmoded or outdated studies (some even proven blatantly wrong) but modern studies and publications. his ctitique against EU are not based upon guess work like CD or rote regurgitations from a debunked web-site (see magnetic reconnection) but on PHYSICS, and he uses LINKS/EMPIRICAL data to support his assertions

THAT is why he is a good critic.
Captain Stumpy
3.7 / 5 (3) May 04, 2014
If they want to critique something, they have to study it. If they want to ignore something, then people who are concerned about accuracy refrain from critiquing it
@Hannes
and here is why you continually look stupid to posters. ANYONE can google Tim Thompson and get the following:
http://www.tim-th...bio.html
http://www.tim-th...aqs.html

and what do we see in the faq's?
http://www.tim-th...sun.html &
http://www.tim-th...l_1.html

well, to do a point by point rebuttal would require READING correct?

IOW - Mr. Thompson STUDIED what was written and wrote a rebuttal based upon physics and empirical data, and then wrote another refute to debunk the rebuttal of scott!

which means? YOU ARE WRONG YET AGAIN!

It's not like this is secret writings!
this is all on the INTERNET!
TRY RESEARCHING your topic before popping off with conjecture that is unsupported and making a FOOL of yourself!

its NOT HARD!
Captain Stumpy
4 / 5 (4) May 04, 2014
Your trolling valuable and well established science, as well as inability to contribute to it, is pitiful.
"Science. It works, bitches." [ http://xkcd.com/54/ ]
@Torbjorn_Larsson_OM
if I could give you a ten, I would! you, sir, just made my day
This last study was available for 5 years before Talbott wrote his article, but he remained ignorant of it. I am weighing whether critiquing the rest of Talbott's work is worth it. It's likely full of equally shoddy work
@barakn
seems to be a trend with the EU. see here: http://www.tim-th...l_1.html

scott's problem with the solar neutrino's as well as other stuff.

which is also the problem with IEEE publications about cosmology. Elec. Engineers dont study much of the things needed for a cosmological study

@Hannes
your soliloquy was wasted because empirical data, logic and science trumps conjecture, hallucinations and faith when proving something... just because someone says it, doesn't mean its true

GOOGLE