NASA has been developing concepts for exploring Europa that include the launch of “clipper” that would flyby and gather data from above the moon, as well as a possible lander. The cost of the clipper mission was estimated (PDF) in 2012 at just under $2 billion, while the cost of a landing on Europa was pegged at $2.8 billion.
NASA officials suggest that the Europa mission space is wide open at this point, the best candidate to get off the ground in 2025 or so may be a concept called the Europa Clipper.
NASA researchers have been developing the Europa Clipper idea for years. The probe would orbit Jupiter but make dozens of flybys of Europa, using a variety of science instruments to study the moon’s ice shell and subsurface ocean.
On its surface, Europa appears to be an iced-over rock orbiting the biggest planet in our neighborhood and often getting nuked by Jupiter’s radiation belt. However, it’s believed that a subsurface ocean exists beneath the ice, kept liquid by a phenomenon called tidal flexing. Just last month, Hubble spotted evidence of a plume of water vapor at the moon’s south pole.
Europa’s Oceans are ten times deeper than the Earth’s oceans and there is more water on Europa.
The Europa Clipper possible payload of science instruments under consideration includes radar to penetrate the frozen crust and determine the thickness of the ice shell, an infrared spectrometer to investigate the composition of Europa’s surface materials, a topographic camera for high-resolution imaging of surface features, and an ion and neutral mass spectrometer to analyze the moon’s trace atmosphere during flybys.
The nominal Europa Clipper mission would perform 45 flybys of Europa at altitudes varying from 2700 km to 25 km.
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