In a blow to Space Launch System (SLS) backers, NASA has issued a request for information (RFI) for the October 2024 launch of the Europa Clipper orbiter that will search for signs of life on Jupiter’s enigmatic, ice-covered moon Europa.
It’s a clear sign that NASA is seeking commercial alternatives to launching the spacecraft on SLS. Congress had previously mandated by law that Europa Clipper’s orbiter and a follow-up lander be launched on the massive rocket. However, the most recent spending law stipulated that NASA should use SLS if one is available.
The spacecraft, which has been gathering data on the gas giant since July 2016, will become an explorer of the full Jovian system – Jupiter and its rings and moons.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA has authorized a mission extension for its Juno spacecraft exploring Jupiter. The agency’s most distant planetary orbiter will now continue its investigation of the solar system’s largest planet through September 2025, or until the spacecraft’s end of life. This expansion tasks Juno with becoming an explorer of the full Jovian system – Jupiter and its rings and moons – with multiple rendezvous planned for three of Jupiter’s most intriguing Galilean moons: Ganymede, Europa, and Io.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — As NASA prepares to send astronauts back to the Moon and on to Mars, the agency’s quest to seek answers about our solar system and beyond continues to inform those efforts and generate new discoveries. The agency has extended the missions of two spacecraft, following an external review of their scientific productivity.
The missions — Juno and InSight — have each increased our understanding of our solar system, as well as spurred new sets of diverse questions.
Scientists have theorized on the origin of the water plumes possibly erupting from Jupiter’s moon Europa. Recent research adds a new potential source to the mix.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Plumes of water vapor that may be venting into space from Jupiter’s moon Europa could come from within the icy crust itself, according to new research. A model outlines a process for brine, or salt-enriched water, moving around within the moon’s shell and eventually forming pockets of water – even more concentrated with salt – that could erupt.
New lab experiments re-create the environment of Europa and find that the icy moon shines, even on its nightside. The effect is more than just a cool visual.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — As the icy, ocean-filled moon Europa orbits Jupiter, it withstands a relentless pummeling of radiation. Jupiter zaps Europa’s surface night and day with electrons and other particles, bathing it in high-energy radiation. But as these particles pound the moon’s surface, they may also be doing something otherworldly: making Europa glow in the dark.
It looks as if the Trump Administration’s goal of landing astronauts on the moon in 2024 is expiring at about the same time as the administration itself. The fatal blow is being struck by Congress, not the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.
The Senate Appropriations Committee has released a fiscal year 2021 funding bill that includes $1 billion for NASA to Human Landing System (HLS) that will take astronauts to and from the lunar surface as part of the Artemis program. The amount is far short of the $3.2 billion that NASA has said is needed for HLS to keep the 2024 landing on schedule.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Many exploration destinations in our solar system are frigid and require hardware that can withstand the extreme cold. During NASA’s Artemis missions, temperatures at the Moon’s South Pole will drop drastically during the lunar night. Farther into the solar system, on Jupiter’s moon Europa, temperatures never rise above -260 degrees Fahrenheit (-162 degrees Celsius) at the equator.
by Lonnie Shekhtman NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
Greenbelt, Md. (NASA PR) — Several years ago, planetary scientist Lynnae Quick began to wonder whether any of the more than 4,000 known exoplanets, or planets beyond our solar system, might resemble some of the watery moons around Jupiter and Saturn.
Though some of these moons don’t have atmospheres and are covered in ice, they are still among the top targets in NASA’s search for life beyond Earth. Saturn’s moon Enceladus and Jupiter’s moon Europa, which scientists classify as “ocean worlds,” are good examples.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — When NASA’s Voyager 2 spacecraft flew by Neptune’s strange moon Triton three decades ago, it wrote a planetary science cliffhanger.
Voyager 2 is the only spacecraft ever to have flown past Neptune, and it left a lot of unanswered questions. The views were as stunning as they were puzzling, revealing massive, dark plumes of icy material spraying out from Triton‘s surface. But how? Images showed that the icy landscape was young and had been resurfaced over and over with fresh material. But what material, and from where?
The Government Accountability Office (GAO) released its latest assessment of NASA’s major projects at the end of April. It found that NASA’s performance on its major projects continued to deteriorate on cost and schedule. (Full Report)
Below are key excerpts from the report that provide an overview of where NASA stands on its major projects. Although GAO did not analyze the Artemis program to return astronauts to the moon, the watchdog warned the Trump Administration’s decision to move the landing date up from 2028 to 2024 will put more pressure on the space agency.
“Looking ahead, NASA will continue to face significant cost and schedule risks as it undertakes complex efforts to return to the moon under an aggressive time frame,” the report stated.
NASA’s Europa Clipper orbiter could be placed in storage for two years awaiting a ride to Jupiter’s icy moon at a cost of $250 million due to Congress’ insistence that it be flown aboard the Space Launch System (SLS), according to a new review by the Government Accountability Office (GAO).
The cost estimate assumes that the Europa orbiter will be ready for launch in July 2023. It would be placed in storage until launch aboard a SLS in September 2025.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — The surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa features a widely varied landscape, including ridges, bands, small rounded domes and disrupted spaces that geologists call “chaos terrain.” Three newly reprocessed images, taken by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s, reveal details in diverse surface features on Europa.
NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award Amount: $125,000
Magneto-Inductive Communications for Ocean Worlds
Robert Romanofsky NASA Glenn Research Center
A mission to the under-ice ocean of Europa is one of the highest priority missions for NASA. Galileo magnetometer measurements and other observations suggest a deep layer of electrically conductive fluid beneath the surface. Concepts for a probe to melt through the 5 to 10 km thickness of briny ice to reach the buried ocean have been proposed.
Model predictions for magnesium sulfide concentrations vary but a conductivity range between 0.1 and 3 S/m seems reasonable. Conventional communications links that rely on propagation of an electromagnetic field cannot penetrate – even if the sea ice conductivity is only 0.1 S/m. The electric field attenuation would exceed 100 dB/km even at very low frequencies.
NASA Innovative Advance Concepts (NIAC) Phase II Award Amount: $500,000
SPEAR Probe – An Ultra Lightweight Nuclear Electric Propulsion Probe for Deep Space Exploration
Troy Howe Howe Industries LLC
Nuclear electric propulsion (NEP) systems have the potential to provide a very effective transit mechanism to celestial bodies outside of the realm of solar power, yet the heavy power source and massive radiators required to justify a reactor core often push NEP spacecraft towards very large masses and major missions.
ByLonnie Shekhtman NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center
GREENBELT, Md. — Forty years ago, a Voyager spacecraft snapped the first closeup images of Europa, one of Jupiter’s 79 moons. These revealed brownish cracks slicing the moon’s icy surface, which give Europa the look of a veiny eyeball. Missions to the outer solar system in the decades since have amassed enough additional information about Europa to make it a high-priority target of investigation in NASA’s search for life.