NASA Mission Named ‘Europa Clipper’

NASA’s Europa Clipper mission is being designed to fly by the icy Jovian moon multiple times and investigate whether it possesses the ingredients necessary for life. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute)

PASADENA, Cailf. (NASA PR) — NASA’s upcoming mission to investigate the habitability of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa now has a formal name: Europa Clipper.

The moniker harkens back to the clipper ships that sailed across the oceans of Earth in the 19th century. Clipper ships were streamlined, three-masted sailing vessels renowned for their grace and swiftness. These ships rapidly shuttled tea and other goods back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and around globe.

In the grand tradition of these classic ships, the Europa Clipper spacecraft would sail past Europa at a rapid cadence, as frequently as every two weeks, providing many opportunities to investigate the moon up close. The prime mission plan includes 40 to 45 flybys, during which the spacecraft would image the moon’s icy surface at high resolution and investigate its composition and the structure of its interior and icy shell.

Europa has long been a high priority for exploration because it holds a salty liquid water ocean beneath its icy crust. The ultimate aim of Europa Clipper is to determine if Europa is habitable, possessing all three of the ingredients necessary for life: liquid water, chemical ingredients, and energy sources sufficient to enable biology.

“During each orbit, the spacecraft spends only a short time within the challenging radiation environment near Europa. It speeds past, gathers a huge amount of science data, then sails on out of there,” said Robert Pappalardo, Europa Clipper project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

Previously, when the mission was still in the conceptual phase, it was sometimes informally called Europa Clipper, but NASA has now adopted that name as the former title for the mission.

The mission is being planned for launch in the 2020s, arriving in the Jupiter system after a journey of several years.

JPL manages the mission for the agency’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

For more information about NASA’s Europa Clipper mission, visit:

  • JamesG

    Actually its still theoretical that Europa has a liquid water mantle. But… whatever gets the project funded right?

    I just hope they bother to point its instruments at the other moons or Jupiter at least once.

  • WhoAmI

    Actually its still theoretical that Europa has a liquid water mantle

    Theoretical as in scientific method applied? 😉 In all seriousness, the only way to know for sure is to take direct measurements near moon.

    But… whatever gets the project funded right?

    The estimated $2 billion cost is less than previous Jupiter moon proposals including $16B and $4.7B missions, both of which had larger goals than EC.

    I just hope they bother to point its instruments at the other moons or Jupiter at least once.

    That would be cool if the solar panels aren’t too fried by the end of the mission from all the radiation coming off Jupiter during the Europa fly-by phase. Hopefully, they get a better understanding of the radiation environment and durability of electronics from the Juno mission to make Europa’s even more durable.

    With JUICE arriving to study Ganymede and Callisto, do you think it would be hard to fund and continue getting DSN time for an extended mission? If Congress doesn’t end up funding the lander as a separate mission, maybe they’ll crash the Clipper into Europa while JUICE points its instruments to record the ejections.

  • Jacob Samorodin

    it’s theoretical that Europa (may) have life too. Theory aside, isn’t that why NASA wants to go? To find life (bacteria) in those icy plumes that have been imaged by HST? Yea yea, they want to find organics, not life (frozen or unfrozen) on Europa. If you believe that NASA claim, I have a 50 million year old flying saucer to sell you. NASA certainly does not hope for nor expect to find intelligent marine life beneath the Europan ice, even if they had the technical means and funding. Besides, those large intelligent critters in Europa’s oceans may get pissed off if we bother them too much.

  • JamesG

    “Theoretical as in scientific method applied? ”

    The contemporary scientific method anyway. Where a popular supposition can become fact when enough time and papers have been spent on it. Oh and a movie too.

  • Paul_Scutts

    Congrats to the person/people who first came up with the name “Europa Clipper”, well done.

  • therealdmt

    They shoulda re-named it ‘Freedom Clipper’

  • JamesG

    Only if they find oil on Europa.

  • redneck

    I think Europa Clipper is more accurate. Using an indefinitely postponable mission to clip the taxpayers with Europa as the focus.