Ladies and gentlemen, gather ‘round, because we’ve got some exciting news from the world of space exploration – NASA is sending a spacecraft to Jupiter’s moon Europa in 2024, and it will be an adventure that’s out of this world! The Europa Clipper, as it’s officially known, is a mission that’s been in development for quite some time, and it’s finally ready for launch.
The spacecraft, which will be sent to study Europa through a series of flybys while in orbit around Jupiter, is packed with a scientific payload of nine instruments contributed by various institutions, including the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) and the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). What’s the big deal about Europa, you might ask? Well, it’s one of the most promising places in our solar system to possibly harbor microbial extraterrestrial life.
The Europa Clipper mission will build on previous studies made by the Galileo spacecraft during its eight years in Jupiter orbit, which showed the existence of a subsurface ocean underneath Europa’s ice crust. NASA plans to send a spacecraft to Europa were initially conceived with projects such as Europa Orbiter and Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter, in which they would inject a spacecraft into orbit around Europa. However, because of the adverse effects of radiation from Jupiter’s magnetosphere in Europa orbit, it was decided that it would be safer to inject a spacecraft into an elliptical orbit around Jupiter and make close flybys of the moon instead. This way, the Europa Clipper will be able to safely gather data without risking damage to the spacecraft.
The mission will launch in October 2024 aboard a Falcon Heavy, and will use gravity assists from Mars in February 2025 and Earth in December 2026, before arriving at Europa in April 2030. It’s a long and treacherous journey, but the Europa Clipper team is up for the challenge. And who knows, we might just discover some alien life forms while we’re at it! Now, before you pack your bags for a trip to Europa, it’s important to note that this mission is purely for scientific research and discovery.
Unfortunately, we won’t be able to take any tourists along for the ride. But we’ll all be able to experience the journey vicariously through the Europa Clipper’s data and discoveries. So, grab your dice and roll for initiative, because the Europa Clipper mission will be an adventure unlike any other.
NASA’s Planetary Science Division has designated it as a Large Strategic Science Mission, and it’s funded under the Planetary Missions Program Office’s Solar System Exploration program as its second flight. It’s also supported by the new Ocean Worlds Exploration Program. And with the support of the European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer launching in 2023, we’re in for an exciting time for space exploration.