The National Aeronautics and Space Administration has announced a new project during the “State of NASA” speech by administrator Chris Bolden. The U.S. space agency seems preparing for first ever Europa mission. NASA is planning to send a probe to the moon of Jupiter.
NASA will request an additional $30 million to finance preliminary studies for the Europa mission. The amount will add up to the $100 million that the American agency already received in 2014.
Discovered 390 million miles away from Earth, Europa is an icy moon believed to hold massive oceans below its frozen surface. Scientists estimate the moon to harbor two or three times more liquid water than Earth.
The space agency has been working on mission concepts for 15 years and seems it already found the right one that is not too small or too expensive. According to one of the senior research scientists Robert Pappalardo, they call the concept, Europa Clipper.
Pappalardo revealed that the concept involves a spacecraft projected to orbit Jupiter and perform several fly-by’s of the planet’s moon for approximately over three years.
Somewhat similar project is already done by NASA in Saturn when they successfully orbited the planet with Cassini spacecraft. Cassini is still performing flybys of the planet’s moon Titan, which help scientists make a map of the moon’s surface. Researchers also collected data about the unique atmosphere of Saturn’s moon.
The Europa Clipper could perform the same mission with a focus on the analysis of the icy world’s potential for life. Europa measures slightly smaller than Earth’s moon with a diameter of 1,900 miles. Aside from its liquid water, scientists also thrilled with Europa’s heat source and nutrient cycling.
According to Kevin Hand, JPL deputy chief scientist for solar system exploration and an astrobiologist, Europa Clipper’s mission is to know whether Europa could be habitable, or it presents the elements required for life to flourish.