Tagged: NASA Europa Clipper Toggle Comment Threads | Keyboard Shortcuts

  • richardmitnick 10:53 am on August 21, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , European Space Agency's Euclid telescope, , NASA Europa Clipper, , , , , NASA's Lucy mission, , Parker Solar Probe Plus,   

    From Science Alert: “Here Are NASA’s Wild Plans to Explore Time And Space For The Next 10 Years” 


    From Science Alert

    21 AUG 2019

    NASA hopes to reach a dead planet called Psyche. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin)

    NASA’s 10-year plan involves billions of dollars and spans millions of miles. And much like the universe, it’s only expanding.

    Last year, the agency announced that it’s planning to send astronauts back to the Moon and eventually build a base there, with a Mars-bound mission to follow in the years after that.

    In June, the agency introduced a mission that aims to fly a nuclear-powered helicopter over the surface of Titan, an icy Moon of Saturn’s, to scan for alien life. NASA wants to looking for life in other places too, like the ocean below the icy surface of Jupiter’s Moon Europa.

    Other future missions will try to photograph our entire cosmic history and map the dark matter and dark energy that govern our Universe.

    Here are some of NASA’s biggest and most ambitious plans for the coming decade.
    1. Several ground-breaking NASA missions are already in progress, including the Parker Solar Probe, which will will rocket past the Sun a total of 24 times.

    NASA Parker Solar Probe Plus named to honor Pioneering Physicist Eugene Parker

    Launched: August 12, 2018

    Arrived: November 5, 2018

    The probe is travelling closer to the Sun than anything from Earth before it. The mission aims to investigate the forces behind solar wind, which could inform efforts to protect technology on Earth from the Sun’s flare-ups.

    Parker slingshots around the Sun at record speeds of up to 213,200 mph (343,000 km/h); it’s currently approaching its third close encounter. A powerful heat shield keeps the spacecraft’s equipment cool.

    The Parker Solar Probe will get closer to the sun than any other probe before it. (NASA Goddard/Youtube)

    2. Far from the Sun, New Horizons is exploring the Kuiper Belt, a region of millions of chunks of ice left over from the Solar System’s birth.

    NASA/New Horizons spacecraft

    Kuiper Belt. Minor Planet Center

    Launched: January 19, 2006

    Arrived at Ultima Thule: January 1, 2019

    The New Horizons spacecraft visited Pluto and the ice dwarfs surrounding it in 2015. In January, the spacecraft reached the farthest object anything human-made has ever visited: a snowman-shaped space rock called 2014 MU69 (or Ultima Thule).

    It sent back the following video of Ultima Thule, though it will likely take until late 2020 for scientists to receive and download all the data from New Horizons’ flyby.

    So far, we’ve learned that the primordial object contains methanol, water ice, and organic molecules.

    3. On the surface of Mars, the InSight lander is listening for quakes.

    NASA/Mars InSight Lander

    Launched: May 5, 2018

    Arrived: November 26, 2018

    Since the InSight lander touched down on the surface of the red planet, it has detected dozens of Mars quakes. The early data is giving scientists new insight into the planet’s internal structure.

    Illustration of the InSight lander on Mars. (NASA/JPL-CaltechAn)

    4. A new Mars rover will join InSight next year. NASA is currently building the vehicle in its Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

    NASA Mars 2020 rover schematic

    NASA Mars 2020 Rover

    Members of NASA’s Mars 2020 project after attaching the rover’s mast. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    5. Researchers hope a future mission to Mars could return the Martian rock samples that the Mars 2020 rover collects back to Earth.

    Planned launch: Unknown

    Anticipated arrival: Unknown

    Until NASA sends another robot to Mars that could launch the stored samples to Earth, the 2020 rover will store the samples in its belly and search for a place on Mars where it can stash them for pickup.

    Proposed Mars Sample Return mission launching samples towards Earth. (NASA/JPL-Caltech)

    Planned launch: July 2020

    Anticipated arrival: February 2021

    The Mars 2020 rover will search for signs of ancient microbial alien life on the red planet, collect and stash rock samples, and test out technology that could pave the way for humans to walk the Martian surface one day.

    You can tune in to NASA’s live broadcast of the Mars 2020 rover’s construction anytime to watch the US$2.1 billion mission take shape.

    6. NASA eventually hopes to send a crewed mission to Mars. But before that, the agency plans to return astronauts to the Moon and built a lunar base there.

    Planned launch: Unknown

    Anticipated arrival: 2024

    NASA wants to send humans to the Moon again by 2024. Those would be the first boots on the lunar surface since the Apollo program ended over 45 years ago. This time, however, NASA wants to build a Moon-orbiting space station with a reusable lunar-landing system.

    The idea is that the lunar base could allow for more in-depth scientific research of the Moon, and potentially even enable us to mine resources there that could be converted to fuel for further space travel.

    7. From the lunar surface, astronauts may springboard to Mars.

    Planned launch: 2030s

    Anticipated arrival: 2030s

    The next Moon mission will test deep-space exploration systems that NASA hopes will carry humans on to Mars.

    Astronauts travelling to Mars would have to spend about three years away from Earth. In order to explore of the red planet, human travellers would have to be able to use the materials available on the lunar and Martian surfaces.

    NASA is already designing future astronauts’ gear. They’re sending spacesuit material on the Mars 2020 rover to test how it holds up in the planet’s harsh atmosphere. A deep-space habitat competition this year yielded a 3D-printable pod that could be constructed using materials found on Mars.

    Concept illustration of Martian habitats. (JPL/NASA)

    8. NASA also plans to investigate our Solar System’s past by launching a mission to an asteroid belt surrounding Jupiter.

    Planned launch: October 2021

    Anticipated arrival: 2027

    A mysterious swarm of Trojan asteroids – the term for space rocks that follow planets – trail Jupiter’s orbit around the Sun. NASA’s Lucy mission plans to visit six of them.

    “We know very little about these objects,” Jim Green, the leader of NASA’s planetary science program, said in a NASA video. “They may be captured asteroids, comets, or even Kuiper Belt objects.”

    What we do know is that the objects are as old as the Sun, so they can serve as a kind of fossil record of the Solar System.

    9. Relatively nearby, a spacecraft will scan for alien life in the saltwater ocean on Jupiter’s Moon Europa.

    Planned launch: 2020s

    Anticipated arrival: Unknown

    When Galileo Galilei first looked at Jupiter through his homemade telescope in 1610, he spotted four Moons circling the planet. Nearly 400 years later, NASA’s Galileo mission found evidence that one of those Moons, Europa, conceals a vast ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust.

    NASA is planning to visit that ocean with the Europa Clipper, a spacecraft that will fly by the Moon 45 times, getting as close at 16 miles above the Moon’s surface.

    NASA/Europa Clipper annotated

    Clipper will fly through water vapour plumes that shoot out from Europa’s surface (as seen in the NASA visual above) to analyse what might be in the ocean. Radar tools will also measure the thickness of the ice and scan for subsurface water.

    10. That investigation could help scientists prepare to land a future spacecraft on Europa’s surface and punch through the ice.

    NASA’s Lucy mission visiting asteroids near Jupiter. (Southwest Research Institute)

    Anticipated launch and arrival: Unknown

    The future lander would search for signs of life in the ocean, digging 4 inches below the surface to extract samples for analysis in a mini, on-the-go laboratory.

    11. A nuclear-powered helicopter called Dragonfly will take the search for alien life one planet further, to Saturn’s largest Moon, Titan.

    Dragonfly visiting sampling location on Titan. (NASA)

    Planned launch: 2026

    Anticipated arrival: 2034

    Titan is a world with ice, liquid methane pools, and a thick nitrogen atmosphere. It somewhat resembles early Earth, since it has carbon-rich organic materials like methane and ethane. Scientists suspect that an ocean of liquid water might lurk 60 miles below the ice.

    All that makes Titan a contender for alien life.

    But getting to the distant, cold Moon is not easy – Saturn only gets about 1 percent of the sunlight that bathes Earth, so a spacecraft can’t rely on solar energy. Instead, Dragonfly will propel itself using the heat of decaying plutonium.

    12. Another NASA team is developing a spacecraft to probe the metal core of a dead planet called Psyche.

    Planned launch: 2022

    Anticipated arrival: 2026

    Most of the asteroids in our Solar System are made of rock or ice, but Psyche is composed of iron and nickel. That’s similar to the makeup of Earth’s core, so scientists think Psyche could be a remnant of an early planet that was decimated by violent collisions billions of years ago.

    NASA is sending a probe to find out.

    “This is an opportunity to explore a new type of world – not one of rock or ice, but of metal,” Linda Elkins-Tanton, who’s leading the mission, said in a press release. “This is the only way humans will ever visit a core.”

    If Psyche really is the exposed core of a dead planet, it could reveal clues about the Solar System’s early years.

    The probe NASA plans to send to Psyche would be the first spacecraft to use light, rather than radio waves, to transmit information back to Earth. The agency gave the team the green light to start the final design and early assembly process in June.

    13. NASA also has 176 missions in the works that use CubeSats: 4-by-4-inch cube-shaped nanotechnology satellites.

    Three CubeSats ejected from the Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency’s Kibo laboratory. (NASA)

    NASA is partnering with 93 organisations across the US on these CubeSat projects. Such satellites have already been built and sent to space by an elementary school, a high school, and the Salish Kootenai College of the Flathead Reservation in Montana.

    The first CubeSats sent to deep space trailed behind the InSight Mars lander last year. They successfully sent data from the InSight lander back to Earth as it landed on the Martian surface.

    One planned mission using the nanotechnology will use lasers to search for ice on the Moon’s shadowy south pole. It’s expected to launch in November 2020.

    Another CubeSat mission, also set to launch in 2020, will fly past an asteroid near Earth and send back data. It will be the first exploration of an asteroid less than 100 meters in diameter.

    That data will help scientists plan for future human missions to asteroids, where astronauts might mine resources as they explore deep space.

    14. Closer to home, the European Space Agency’s Euclid telescope will study dark matter and dark energy.

    ESA/Euclid spacecraft

    Planned launch and arrival: 2022

    Dark matter makes up 85 percent of the universe, but nobody is sure what it is. Part of the problem is that we can’t see it because it doesn’t interact with light.

    Dark matter’s gravity holds the entire universe together, while an unknown force called dark energy pushes everything apart. Dark energy is winning, and that’s why the universe is expanding.

    As Euclid orbits Earth, the space telescope will measure the universe’s expansion and attempt to map the mysterious geometry of dark matter and energy.

    NASA is working with the ESA on imaging and infrared equipment for the telescope.

    15. The James Webb Space Telescope, which has a massive, 18-panel mirror, will scan the universe for life-hosting planets and attempt to look back in time to photograph the Big Bang.

    NASA/ESA/CSA Webb Telescope annotated

    Planned launch and arrival: 2021

    It’s been almost 30 years since the Hubble Space Telescope launched. The James Webb Space Telescope is its planned replacement, and it packs new infrared technology to detect light beyond what the human eye can see.

    The telescope’s goal is to study every phase of the universe’s history in order to learn about how the first stars and galaxies formed, how planets are born, and where there might be life in the universe.

    A 21-foot-wide folding beryllium mirror will help the telescope observe faraway galaxies in detail. A five-layer, tennis court-size shield protects it from the Sun’s heat and blocks sunlight that could interfere with the images.

    16. The James Webb Space Telescope will be capable of capturing extremely faint signals. The farther it looks out into space, the more it will look back in time, so the telescope could even detect the first glows of the Big Bang.

    The telescope will also observe distant, young galaxies in detail we’ve never seen before.

    The expanding universe. (NASA)

    17. The Wide Field InfraRed Survey Telescope (WFIRST) is expected to detect thousands of new planets and test theories of general relativity and dark energy.


    Planned launch and arrival: mid-2020s

    WFIRST’s field of view will be 100 times greater than Hubble’s. Over its five-year lifetime, the space telescope will measure light from a billion galaxies and survey the inner Milky Way with the hope of finding about 2,600 exoplanets.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

  • richardmitnick 1:00 pm on April 1, 2019 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: "Europa Clipper High-Gain Antenna Undergoes Testing", , , , , NASA Europa Clipper,   

    From JPL-Caltech: “Europa Clipper High-Gain Antenna Undergoes Testing” 

    NASA JPL Banner

    From JPL-Caltech

    April 1, 2019

    Gretchen McCartney
    Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    JoAnna Wendel
    NASA Headquarters, Washington

    Written by Joe Atkinson
    NASA Langley Research Center, Hampton, Va.

    A full-scale prototype of the high-gain antenna on NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft is undergoing testing in the Experimental Test Range at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Credit: NASA/Langley

    It probably goes without saying, but this isn’t your everyday satellite dish.

    In fact, it’s not a satellite dish at all. It’s a high-gain antenna (HGA), and a future version of it will send and receive signals to and from Earth from a looping orbit around Jupiter.

    The antenna will take that long journey aboard NASA’s Europa Clipper, a spacecraft that will conduct detailed reconnaissance of Jupiter’s moon Europa to see whether the icy orb could harbor conditions suitable for life.

    NASA/Europa Clipper annotated

    Scientists believe there’s a massive salty ocean beneath Europa’s icy surface. The antenna will beam back high-resolution images and scientific data from Europa Clipper’s cameras and science instruments.

    The full-scale prototype antenna, which at 10 feet (3 meters) tall is the same height as a standard basketball hoop, is in the Experimental Test Range (ETR) at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. Researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, and Langley are testing the prototype in the ETR in order to assess its performance and demonstrate the high pointing accuracies required for the Europa Clipper mission.

    The ETR is an indoor electromagnetic test facility that allows researchers to characterize transmitters, receivers, antennas and other electromagnetic components and subsystems in a scientifically controlled environment.

    “Several years ago we scoured the country to find a facility that was capable of making the difficult measurements that would be required on the HGA and found that the ETR clearly was it,”said Thomas Magner, assistant project manager for Europa Clipper at the Applied Physics Laboratory. “The measurements that will be performed in the ETR will demonstrate that the Europa Clipper mission can get a large volume of scientific data back to Earth and ultimately determine the habitability of Europa.”

    Tests on this prototype antenna are scheduled to wrap up soon; however, researchers plan to return to the ETR in 2020 to conduct additional tests on Europa Clipper’s high-gain antenna flight article. Europa Clipper plans to launch in the 2020s, with travel time to Jupiter taking three to seven years (depending on the launch vehicle and which planetary alignments can be utilized).

    JPL manages the Europa Clipper mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The multiple-flyby concept was developed in partnership with the Applied Physics Laboratory.

    See the full article here .


    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    Stem Education Coalition

    NASA JPL Campus

    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL)) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge, on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

    Caltech Logo

    NASA image

  • richardmitnick 12:15 pm on January 28, 2018 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , Europa moon, NASA Europa Clipper   

    From EarthSky: “Will future landers on Europa sink?” 



    January 28, 2018
    Deborah Byrd

    Jupiter’s moon Europa is an ocean world beneath an icy crust, and scientists want to land a spacecraft there. But a new study indicates a surface less dense than freshly fallen snow.

    Space scientists have every reason to be fascinated with Jupiter’s moon Europa, and, in 2017, NASA and the European Space Agency (ESA) announced they are planning a joint mission to land there. As the video above explains, this little moon is thought to have a liquid ocean submerged beneath an icy crust. Scientists believe it could host extraterrestrial life. But Europa’s surface is much more alien than any we’ve ever visited. With its extremely thin atmosphere, low gravity – and a surface temperature of some -350 degrees F. (–176 °C.) – Europa might not be kind to a landing spacecraft. The moon’s surface might be unexpectedly hard. Or – as evidenced by a study from the Planetary Science Institute announced on January 24, 2018 – Europa’s surface might be so porous that any craft trying to land would simply sink.

    The study – published in the peer-reviewed journal Icarus – comes from scientist Robert Nelson. If you’re a student of space history, its results might sound familiar. Nelson pointed out in his statement:

    “Of course, before the landing of the Luna 2 robotic spacecraft in 1959, there was concern that the moon might be covered in low density dust into which any future astronauts might sink.”

    Luna 2 Soviet moon probe. NASA.

    Now Europa is the source of a similar scariness, with Nelson’s study showing that Europa’s surface could be as much as 95 percent porous.

    The puzzling, fascinating surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. This color composite is made from images taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute.

    NASA/Galileo 1989-2003

    Nelson’s study of Europa is part of a group of studies he has conducted of both asteroids (44 Nysa, 64 Angelina) and jovian moons (Io, Europa, Ganymede). He conducts his studies via photopolarimetry, the measurement of the intensity and polarization of reflected light.

    Observations were made using a photopolarimeter located at Mt. San Antonio College in Walnut, California.

    According to Nelson, the observations can be explained by extremely fine-grained particles on Europa’s surface with a porosity less than about 95 percent. This corresponds to material that would be less dense than freshly fallen snow, raising questions about risks of sinking for a future Europa lander.

    Brown ridges crisscross Europa, indicating the possibility of liquid welling up from below. This suggests an active geology and raises questions about possible life on Europa. Image via NASA/PLAN-PIA01641.

    A mission to land on Europa is challenging in other ways. For example, Europa — along with the three other Galilean moons (Io, Ganymede and Callisto) — orbits within Jupiter’s radiation belts. A spacecraft trying to orbit Europa would be quickly fried.

    That’s why NASA’s upcoming Europa Clipper mission is designed to orbit Jupiter, not Europa.

    NASA/Europa Clipper

    It’ll sweep in and out of the radiation belts for a period of several earthly years, making flyby observations of Europa each time it passes near this jovian moon. Its observations will help answer questions about what might happen to future spacecraft attempting to land on Europa.

    The video below has more about the upcoming flyby mission, Europa Clipper, set for launch around 2022-2025.

    Bottom line: A recent study via the Planetary Science Institute indicates that the surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa might be as much as 95 percent porous – less dense than freshly fallen snow – so that a future lander might sink.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    Deborah Byrd created the EarthSky radio series in 1991 and founded EarthSky.org in 1994. Today, she serves as Editor-in-Chief of this website. She has won a galaxy of awards from the broadcasting and science communities, including having an asteroid named 3505 Byrd in her honor. A science communicator and educator since 1976, Byrd believes in science as a force for good in the world and a vital tool for the 21st century. “Being an EarthSky editor is like hosting a big global party for cool nature-lovers,” she says.

  • richardmitnick 11:23 am on April 21, 2017 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , , NASA Europa Clipper   

    From Many Worlds: “NASA Panel Supports Life-Detecting Lander for Europa; Updated” 

    NASA NExSS bloc


    Many Words icon

    Many Worlds

    Marc Kaufman

    Artist conception of water vapor plumes coming from beneath the thick ice of Jupiter’s moon Europa. The plumes have not been definitively detected, but Hubble Space Telescope images made public earlier this month appear to show plume activity in an area where it was detected once before. How will this finding affect decision-making about a potential NASA Europa lander mission? (NASA)

    As I prepare for the Astrobiology Science Conference (Abscicon) next week in Arizona, I’m struck by how many speakers will be discussing Europa missions, Europa science, ocean worlds and habitability under ice. NASA’s Europa Clipper mission to orbit that moon, scheduled for launch to the Jupiter system in the mid 2020s, explains part of the interest, but so too does the unsettled fate of the Europa lander concept.

    NASA Europa Clipper

    The NASA Science Definition Team that studied the Europa lander project will both give a science talk at the conference and hold an afternoon-long science community meeting on their conclusions. The team argued that landing on Europa holds enormous scientific promise, most especially in the search for life beyond Earth.

    But since the Europa lander SDT wrote its report and took its conclusions public early this year, the landscape has changed substantially. First, in March, the Trump Administration 2018 budget eliminated funding for the lander project. More than half a billion dollars have been spent on Europa lander research and development, but the full project was considered to be too expensive by the White House.

    Administration budget proposals and what ultimately become budget reality can be quite different, and as soon as the Europa lander was cancelled supporters in Congress pushed back. Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.) and chair of the House subcommittee that oversees the NASA budget, replied to the proposed cancellation by saying “NASA is a strategic national asset and I have no doubt NASA will receive sufficient funding to complete the most important missions identified by the science community, including seeking out life in the oceans of Europa.”

    More recently, researchers announced additional detections of plumes of water vapor apparently coming out of Europa — plumes in the same location as a previous apparent detection. The observing team said they were confident the difficult observation was indeed water vapor, but remained less than 100 percent certain. (Unlike for the detection of a water plume on Saturn’s moon Enceladeus, which the Cassini spacecraft photographed, measured and flew through.)

    So while suffering a serious blow in the budgeting process, the case for a Europa lander has gotten considerably stronger from a science and logistics perspective. Assuming that the plume detections are accurate, a lander touching down in that general area would potentially have some access to surface H20 that was in the vast global ocean under the ice not too long ago.

    Science fiction writer and proto-astrobiologist Arthur C. Clarke famously wrote decades ago that the first life found beyond Earth would most likely be in the oceans of Europa. In the early 1980s he wrote a sequel to “2001: A Space Odyssey” called “2010: Odyssey Two”, with life under the ice of Europa central to the plot.

    At the climactic moment in the novel, the hero returns to the iconic computer HAL which sends out this message:


    Hopefully Congress and the White House, if not HAL, can be persuaded otherwise.

    Here is a column I wrote about the Europa lander SDT in February:

    Artist rendering of a potential life-detecting lander mission to Europa that would follow on the Europa Clipper orbiter mission. In the background is Jupiter. NASA/JPL/Caltech

    It has been four long decades since NASA has sent an officially-designated life detection mission into space. The confused results of the Viking missions to Mars in the mid 1970s were so controversial and contradictory that scientists — or the agency at least — concluded that the knowledge needed to convincingly search for extraterrestrial life wasn’t available yet.

    But now, a panel of scientists and engineers brought together by NASA has studied a proposal to send a lander to Jupiter’s moon Europa and, among other tasks, return to the effort of life-detection.

    In their recommendation, in fact, the NASA-appointed Science Definition Team said that the primary goal of the mission would be “to search for evidence of life on Europa.”

    The other goals are to assess the habitability of Europa by directly analyzing material from the surface, and to characterize the surface and subsurface to support future robotic exploration of Europa and its ocean.

    Scientists agree that the evidence is quite strong that Europa, which is slightly smaller than Earth’s moon, has a global saltwater ocean beneath its deep ice crust, and that it contains twice as much water as exists on Earth.

    For the ocean to be liquid there must be substantial sources of heat — from tidal heating based on the shape of its orbits, or from heat emanating from radioactive decay and entering the ocean through hydrothermal vents. All could potentially provide an environment where life could emerge and survive.

    Kevin Hand of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory is a specialist in icy worlds and is deputy project scientist for the Europa project. He was one of the co-chairs of the Science Definition Team (SDT) and he said the group was ever mindful of the complicated history of the Viking missions. He said that some people called Viking a “failure” because it did not clearly identify life, but he described that view as “entirely unscientific.”

    “It would be misguided to set out to ‘find life’,” he told me. “The real objective is to test an hypothesis – one we have that if you bring together the conditions for life as we know them, then they might come together and life can inhabit the environment.

    “As far as we can tell, Europa has the water, the elements and the energy needed to create a habitable world. If the origin of life involves some relatively easy processes, then it just might be there on Europa.”

    This artist’s rendering shows NASA’s Europa orbiter mission spacecraft, which is being developed for a launch sometime in the 2020s. The mission would place a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter in order to perform a detailed investigation of the planet’s moon Europa. The spacecraft will arrive at Jupiter after a multi-year journey, orbiting the gas giant every two weeks for a series of 45 flybys of Europa. NASA generally sends orbiters to a planet or moon before sending a lander. (NASA)

    The conclusions of the SDT team, which is made is up of dozens of scientists and engineers, will set the stage for further review, rather than for immediate action. The report goes to NASA, where it is assessed in relation to other compelling and competing missions. Both the Congress and White House can and do weigh in

    If it is approved, the Europa lander mission would be a companion to the already funded Europa multiple flyby mission scheduled to launch in the 2020s. While that spacecraft, the Europa Clipper, would have some capacity to determine whether or not the icy moon is habitable, a lander would be needed to search for actual signs of life.

    A mission to Europa was a top priority of the 2010 Decadal Review, a synthesis of potential projects in various disciplines that is reviewed by the National Research Council of the National Academy of Sciences.

    Its recommendations from the Decadal Review are generally followed by NASA. It remains unclear whether the Europa lander is a natural follow-on to the Europa Clipper or a new initiative to be judged on its own. But the project does have strong support — last year Rep. John Culberson (R-Tex.) pushed a bill through Congress making it illegal to not send a lander to Europa.

    Although there are many hurdles to clear for the Europa lander, the SDT report is nonetheless a rather momentous event since it strongly recommends a life-detection mission. So I thought it was worthwhile to include the entire preface of the team’s conclusions.

    “The Europa Lander Science Definition Team Report presents the integrated results of an intensive science and engineering team effort to develop and optimize a mission concept that would follow the Europa Multiple Flyby Mission and conduct the first in situ search for evidence of life on another world since the Viking spacecraft on Mars in the 1970s.

    The Europa Lander mission would be a pathfinder for characterizing the biological potential of Europa’s ocean through direct study of any chemical, geological, and possibly biological, signatures as expressed on, and just below, the surface of Europa. The search for signs of life on Europa’s surface requires an analytical payload that performs quantitative organic compositional, microscopic, and spectroscopic analysis on five samples acquired from at least 10 cm beneath the surface, with supporting context imaging observations.

    This mission would significantly advance our understanding of Europa as an ocean world, even in the absence of any definitive signs of life, and would provide the foundation for the future robotic exploration of Europa.”

    (Here is the full Europa lander SDT report.)

    Hand said that a lander would be a natural complement to the Europa Clipper, which is being designed to orbit Jupiter and pass by Europa 45 times at altitudes varying from 1675 miles to 16 miles. The flybys, he said, could potentially identify cracks and fissures in the crust of the moon, and thereby help identify where a lander should touch down.

    What’s more, images taken by the Hubble Space Telescope in 2012 suggest that Europa may be spitting out water in plumes that those clearly detected on Saturn’s moon, Enceladus.

    “If a plume was identified during a flyby, you better believe that we would do all we could to land somewhere close to it. The goal is to get as near as possible to the water coming out from under the crust because that’s how we’ll best learn whether that water has complex organic molecules, nitrogen compounds needed for life and possibly life itself.”

    If the lander project does get the green light in the months (or years) ahead, NASA would then put out a call to propose instruments that could search for the various chemical building blocks and manifestations life, as well morphological signs that life once was present. The search for life, in other words, would involve checking the boxes of building blocks or known molecular signs of possible life as they are found (or not found.)

    This is quite a different approach from that used during the Viking missions.

    Famously, the so-called “Labelled Release” experiments on both Viking 1 and Viking 2 met the criteria for having detected life as set out by NASA scientists before the mission began. Those criteria involved the detection of metabolism, the chemical processes that occur within a living organism in order to maintain life. A detection would imply the presence of life right on the harsh, irradiated Martian surface.

    In the LR experiment, a drop of very dilute aqueous nutrient solution was dropped into a sample collected of Martian soil. The nutrients (seven molecules that were products of the Miller-Urey experiment) were tagged with radioactive carbon 14 and the air above the soil was monitored for the evolution of radioactive CO2 gas. The presence of the gas was interpreted as evidence that microorganisms in the soil had metabolized one or more of the nutrients.

    A picture of the Martian surface, as seen by NASA’s Viking 2 lander in 1976.

    The LR was followed with a control experiment, and the results consistently met the criteria for having detected “life.” Two other biology experiments on Viking, however, came up negative, including the one considered most conclusive — that no carbon-based organic material was detected in the soil, except for one interpreted as contamination from Earth.

    Subsequent Mars missions have strongly suggested that those organics interpreted as contamination were, in fact, organics interacting with perchlorate molecules now known to be common on the Martian surface. But despite this revision, the Mars science community remains broadly skeptical of the Labelled Release results, arguing that the CO2 could have been produced without biology. That, however, has not stopped LR principal investigator Gilbert Levin, and some others, from arguing now for forty years that the experiment did find life, creating a controversy that NASA has long struggled with.

    Hand said that in hindsight, “we can see that it didn’t make sense to look for metabolism until we knew a lot more. We need to follow the water, follow the carbon, follow the nitrogen, follow the complex molecules, and if all of that succeeds then we look for a living, breathing creature.”

    One of the inspirations for the hypothesis that Europa might harbor life under and within its ice is the recognition that frozen Antarctica also is home to microbial life. The most significant laboratory is Lake Vostok, an enormous collection of water beneath more than two miles of Antarctic ice.

    Researchers have determined that microbial life exists miles down through the ice. The distribution is small — something like 100 cells per milliliter of melted ice — but researchers have been trying for years to drill down into the lake and determine if the lake itself is home to more abundant life. The research has been done primarily by Russian scientists and engineers, and has been slowed by the harsh conditions and innumerable technical problems.

    Three dimensional model of Lake Vostok drilling. (National Science Foundation)

    But as a proof of concept, Hand said, Lake Vostok and other subglacial lakes in Antarctica show that life can survive in freezing conditions. He said the science teams recommended that any life detection instrument that might go to Europa be able to identify life in the very low concentrations found at Vostok.

    Tori Hoehler, a research scientist at NASA’s Ames Research Center, is a specialist in microbial life in low energy environments (like Vostok and perhaps Europa,) and he is also a member of the Europa lander science definition team.

    “Our present understanding of Europa suggests that it is habitable, but it is more difficult to constrain how abundant or productive a Europan biosphere — should one exist — might be. For that reason, a conservative approach is to look to some of Earth’s most sparsely populated ecosystems when setting measurement targets for the lander.”

    But however low that abundance might be, the detection of anything with characteristics of life on Europa would be a huge advance for science.

    See the full article here .

    Please help promote STEM in your local schools.

    STEM Icon

    Stem Education Coalition

    About Many Worlds

    There are many worlds out there waiting to fire your imagination.

    Marc Kaufman is an experienced journalist, having spent three decades at The Washington Post and The Philadelphia Inquirer, and is the author of two books on searching for life and planetary habitability. While the “Many Worlds” column is supported by the Lunar Planetary Institute/USRA and informed by NASA’s NExSS initiative, any opinions expressed are the author’s alone.

    This site is for everyone interested in the burgeoning field of exoplanet detection and research, from the general public to scientists in the field. It will present columns, news stories and in-depth features, as well as the work of guest writers.

    About NExSS

    The Nexus for Exoplanet System Science (NExSS) is a NASA research coordination network dedicated to the study of planetary habitability. The goals of NExSS are to investigate the diversity of exoplanets and to learn how their history, geology, and climate interact to create the conditions for life. NExSS investigators also strive to put planets into an architectural context — as solar systems built over the eons through dynamical processes and sculpted by stars. Based on our understanding of our own solar system and habitable planet Earth, researchers in the network aim to identify where habitable niches are most likely to occur, which planets are most likely to be habitable. Leveraging current NASA investments in research and missions, NExSS will accelerate the discovery and characterization of other potentially life-bearing worlds in the galaxy, using a systems science approach.
    The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is the agency of the United States government that is responsible for the nation’s civilian space program and for aeronautics and aerospace research.

    President Dwight D. Eisenhower established the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) in 1958 with a distinctly civilian (rather than military) orientation encouraging peaceful applications in space science. The National Aeronautics and Space Act was passed on July 29, 1958, disestablishing NASA’s predecessor, the National Advisory Committee for Aeronautics (NACA). The new agency became operational on October 1, 1958.

    Since that time, most U.S. space exploration efforts have been led by NASA, including the Apollo moon-landing missions, the Skylab space station, and later the Space Shuttle. Currently, NASA is supporting the International Space Station and is overseeing the development of the Orion Multi-Purpose Crew Vehicle and Commercial Crew vehicles. The agency is also responsible for the Launch Services Program (LSP) which provides oversight of launch operations and countdown management for unmanned NASA launches. Most recently, NASA announced a new Space Launch System that it said would take the agency’s astronauts farther into space than ever before and lay the cornerstone for future human space exploration efforts by the U.S.

    NASA science is focused on better understanding Earth through the Earth Observing System, advancing heliophysics through the efforts of the Science Mission Directorate’s Heliophysics Research Program, exploring bodies throughout the Solar System with advanced robotic missions such as New Horizons, and researching astrophysics topics, such as the Big Bang, through the Great Observatories [Hubble, Chandra, Spitzer, and associated programs. NASA shares data with various national and international organizations such as from the [JAXA]Greenhouse Gases Observing Satellite.

  • richardmitnick 2:54 pm on October 13, 2014 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , , , , NASA Europa Clipper   

    From NASA/JPL at Caltech: “JPL Selects Europa CubeSat Proposals for Study” 


    8 Oct 2014
    Preston Dyches
    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

    NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, has chosen proposals from 10 universities to study Cubesat concepts that could enhance a Europa mission concept currently under study by NASA. The CubeSat concepts will be incorporated into a JPL study describing how small probes could be carried as auxiliary payloads. The CubeSats would then be released in the Jovian system to make measurements and enhance our understanding of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

    Ncube-2, a Norwegian Cubesat

    CubeSats are small, lightweight and low-cost satellites, often only inches on a side. With support from NASA, JPL is working to include small spacecraft on deep space exploration missions to complement primary spacecraft.

    The conceptual Europa mission, called Europa Clipper, would conduct detailed reconnaissance of the icy moon and investigate whether it could harbor conditions suitable for life.

    NASA Europa Clipper
    NASA/Europa Clipper concept

    Awardees will receive up to $25,000 each to develop their CubeSat concepts for inclusion in the study, which will be completed next summer.

    CubeSat concepts from the following universities were chosen by JPL’s Planetary CubeSat office for inclusion in the study:

    Arizona State University, Tempe
    Georgia Tech Research Corporation, Atlanta
    Stanford University, Stanford, California
    The Regents of New Mexico State University, Las Cruces, New Mexico
    The Regents of the University of Colorado, Boulder
    The Regents of the University of Michigan, Ann Arbor
    University of Alaska, Fairbanks
    University of Southern California, Los Angeles
    University of Illinois, Urbana
    University of Washington, Seattle

    The universities’ Europa science objectives for their CubeSats would include reconnaissance for future landing sites, gravity fields, magnetic fields, atmospheric and plume science, and radiation measurements.

    “We’ve seen some innovative and quite creative surprises among the CubeSat ideas submitted by these universities,” said Barry Goldstein, pre-project manager for the Europa Clipper mission concept. “Using CubeSats for planetary exploration is just now becoming possible, so we want to explore how a future mission to Europa might take advantage of them.”

    The California Institute of Technology in Pasadena manages JPL for NASA.

    For more information about Europa, visit:


    For more information about Europa Clipper, visit:


    See the full article here.


    Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) is a federally funded research and development center and NASA field center located in the San Gabriel Valley area of Los Angeles County, California, United States. Although the facility has a Pasadena postal address, it is actually headquartered in the city of La Cañada Flintridge [1], on the northwest border of Pasadena. JPL is managed by the nearby California Institute of Technology (Caltech) for the National Aeronautics and Space Administration. The Laboratory’s primary function is the construction and operation of robotic planetary spacecraft, though it also conducts Earth-orbit and astronomy missions. It is also responsible for operating NASA’s Deep Space Network.

    Caltech Logo

    ScienceSprings relies on technology from

    MAINGEAR computers



Compose new post
Next post/Next comment
Previous post/Previous comment
Show/Hide comments
Go to top
Go to login
Show/Hide help
shift + esc
%d bloggers like this: