All systems go for NASA's mission to Jupiter moon Europa

June 18, 2015, NASA
Europa
The Galileo spacecraft took this image of Europa, which is about the size of Earth's moon, in 1996. Credit: NASA.

Beyond Earth, Jupiter's moon Europa is considered one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for signs of present-day life, and a new NASA mission to explore this potential is moving forward from concept review to development.

NASA's mission concept—to conduct a detailed survey of Europa and investigate its habitability—has successfully completed its first major review by the agency and now is entering the development phase known as formulation.

"Today we're taking an exciting step from concept to mission, in our quest to find signs of life beyond Earth," said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. "Observations of Europa have provided us with tantalizing clues over the last two decades, and the time has come to seek answers to one of humanity's most profound questions."

NASA's Galileo mission to Jupiter in the late 1990s produced strong evidence that Europa, about the size of Earth's moon, has an ocean beneath its frozen crust. If proven to exist, this global ocean could hold more than twice as much water as Earth. With abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa may have the ingredients needed to support simple organisms.

The mission plan calls for a spacecraft to be launched to Jupiter in the 2020s, arriving in the distant planet's orbit after a journey of several years. The spacecraft would orbit the giant planet about every two weeks, providing many opportunities for close flybys of Europa. The mission plan includes 45 flybys, during which the spacecraft would image the moon's icy surface at high resolution and investigate its composition and the structure of its interior and icy shell.

Could a liquid water ocean beneath the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa have the ingredients to support life? Here's how NASA's mission to Europa would find out. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has been assigned the responsibility of managing the project. JPL has been studying the multiple-flyby mission concept, in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, since 2011.

Instruments selected for the Europa mission's scientific payload were announced by NASA on May 26. Institutions supplying instruments include APL; JPL; Arizona State University, Tempe; the University of Texas at Austin; Southwest Research Institute, San Antonio and the University of Colorado, Boulder.

"It's a great day for science," said Joan Salute, Europa program executive at NASA Headquarters in Washington. "We are thrilled to pass the first major milestone in the lifecycle of a that will ultimately inform us on the habitability of Europa."

Explore further: NASA's Europa mission begins with selection of science instruments

Related Stories

Image: Europa's Jupiter-facing hemisphere

May 27, 2015

This 12-frame mosaic provides the highest resolution view ever obtained of the side of Jupiter's moon Europa that faces the giant planet. It was obtained on Nov. 25, 1999 by the camera onboard the Galileo spacecraft, a past ...

NASA issues 'remastered' view of Jupiter's moon Europa

November 21, 2014

(Phys.org) —Scientists have produced a new version of what is perhaps NASA's best view of Jupiter's ice-covered moon, Europa. The mosaic of color images was obtained in the late 1990s by NASA's Galileo spacecraft. This ...

NASA seeks proposals for Europa mission science instruments

July 16, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA has issued an Announcement of Opportunity (AO) for proposals about science instruments that could be carried aboard a future mission to Jupiter's moon Europa. Selected instruments could address fundamental ...

Recommended for you

New research challenges existing models of black holes

January 19, 2018

Chris Packham, associate professor of physics and astronomy at The University of Texas at San Antonio (UTSA), has collaborated on a new study that expands the scientific community's understanding of black holes in our galaxy ...

Neutron-star merger yields new puzzle for astrophysicists

January 18, 2018

The afterglow from the distant neutron-star merger detected last August has continued to brighten - much to the surprise of astrophysicists studying the aftermath of the massive collision that took place about 138 million ...

New technique for finding life on Mars

January 18, 2018

Researchers demonstrate for the first time the potential of existing technology to directly detect and characterize life on Mars and other planets. The study, published in Frontiers in Microbiology, used miniaturized scientific ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.