A First Look At The Europa Mission Spacecraft

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

April 20, 2016 – This artist’s rendering shows NASA’s Europa mission spacecraft, which is being developed for a launch sometime in the 2020s. This view shows the spacecraft configuration, which could change before launch, as of early 2016.

The mission would place a spacecraft in orbit around Jupiter in order to perform a detailed investigation of the giant planet’s moon Europa — a world that shows strong evidence for an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust and which could host conditions favorable for life. The highly capable, radiation-tolerant spacecraft would enter into a long, looping orbit around Jupiter to perform repeated close flybys of Europa.

The concept image shows two large solar arrays extending from the sides of the spacecraft, to which the mission’s ice-penetrating radar antennas are attached. A saucer-shaped high-gain antenna is also side mounted, with a magnetometer boom placed next to it. On the forward end of the spacecraft (at left in this view) is a remote-sensing palette, which houses the rest of the science instrument payload.

The nominal mission would perform at least 45 flybys of Europa at altitudes varying from 1,700 miles to 16 miles (2,700 kilometers to 25 kilometers) above the surface.

This view takes artistic liberty with Jupiter’s position in the sky relative to Europa and the spacecraft.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory manages the Europa mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. 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. Additionally, Ball Aerospace & Technologies Corp. will support Arizona State University (ASU) to develop one of the nine instruments.

The payload of selected science instruments includes cameras and spectrometers to produce high-resolution images of Europa’s surface and determine its composition. An ice penetrating radar will determine the thickness of the moon’s icy shell and search for subsurface lakes similar to those beneath Antarctica. The mission also will carry a magnetometer to measure strength and direction of the moon’s magnetic field, which will allow scientists to determine the depth and salinity of its ocean. A thermal instrument will scour Europa’s frozen surface in search of recent eruptions of warmer water, while additional instruments will search for evidence of water and tiny particles in the moon’s thin atmosphere.