NASA Issues RFI for Europa Clipper Launch

Europa Clipper in orbit around Europa. (Credit; NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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.

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7 Things to Know About the NASA Rover About to Land on Mars

In a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, engineers observed the first driving test for NASA’s Mars 2020 rover on Dec. 17, 2019. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — With only about 50 million miles (80 million kilometers) left to go in its 293-million-mile (471-million-kilometer) journey, NASA’s Mars 2020 Perseverance rover is nearing its new planetary home. The spacecraft has begun its approach to the Red Planet and in 43 days, on Feb. 18, 2021, Perseverance will blaze through Mars’ atmosphere at about 12,100 mph (19,500 kph), touching down gently on the surface about seven minutes later.

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SwRI Models Point to a Potentially Diverse Metabolic Menu at Enceladus

This figure illustrates a cross-section of Enceladus, showing a summary of the processes SwRI scientists modeled in the Saturn moon. Oxidants produced in the surface ice when water molecules are broken apart by radiation can combine with reductants produced by hydrothermal activity and other water-rock reactions, creating an energy source for potential life in the ocean. (Credit: SwRI)

SAN ANTONIO, Texas (SwRI PR) — Using data from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, scientists at Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) modeled chemical processes in the subsurface ocean of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The studies indicate the possibility that a varied metabolic menu could support a potentially diverse microbial community in the liquid water ocean beneath the moon’s icy facade.

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Space Weather Discovery Puts ‘Habitable Planets’ at Risk

Artist’s impression of flare from our neighbouring star Proxima Centauri ejecting material onto a nearby planet. (Credit: Mark Myers/OzGrav)

Stellar flares with a chance of radio bursts: the weather from Proxima Centauri

SYDNEY (University of Sydney PR) — A discovery that links stellar flares with radio-burst signatures will make it easier for astronomers to detect space weather around nearby stars outside the Solar System. Unfortunately, the first weather reports from our nearest neighbour, Proxima Centauri, are not promising for finding life as we know it.

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Breakthrough Initiatives to Fund Research into Search for Primitive Life in Clouds of Venus

Venus hides a wealth of information that could help us better understand Earth and exoplanets. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

SAN FRANCISCO (Breakthrough Initiatives PR)  – Breakthrough Initiatives, the privately-funded space science programs founded by science and technology investor and philanthropist Yuri Milner, are funding a research study into the possibility of primitive life in the clouds of Venus. The study is inspired by the discovery, announced yesterday, of the gas phosphine, considered a potential biosignature, in the planet’s atmosphere.

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Venus Phosphine Detection Fact Sheet

Artist’s impression of Venus, with an inset showing a representation of the phosphine molecules detected in the high cloud decks. (Credit: ESO / M. Kornmesser / L. Calçada & NASA / JPL / Caltech)

Royal Astronomical Society
Fact Sheet

On 14 September 2020, astronomers announced the detection of phosphine, a potential biomarker, in the atmosphere of Venus. Here are ten essential facts about the discovery:

What has been discovered?

A molecule called phosphine has been detected in the atmosphere of the planet Venus.

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Scientists Find Hints of Life on Venus

By Ultraviolet Imager (UVI), at around 2:19 p.m. on Dec. 7 (Japan Standard Time) at the Venus altitude of about 72,000 km. (Credit: JAXA)

CARDIFF, Wales (Cardiff University PR) — An international team of astronomers, led by Professor Jane Greaves of Cardiff University, today announced the discovery of a rare molecule – phosphine – in the clouds of Venus. On Earth, this gas is only made industrially, or by microbes that thrive in oxygen-free environments.

Astronomers have speculated for decades that high clouds on Venus could offer a home for microbes – floating free of the scorching surface, but still needing to tolerate very high acidity. The detection of phosphine molecules, which consist of hydrogen and phosphorus, could point to this extra-terrestrial ‘aerial’ life. The new discovery is described in a paper in Nature Astronomy.

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Bacteria in Rock Deep Under Sea Inspire New Search for Life on Mars

Aerobic bacteria live densely packed into tunnels of clay minerals found in this sample of solid rock, collected from 122 meters beneath the seafloor. Image B is 1,000 times greater magnification than Image A. The left-side photo in each image was taken using normal light and the right-side photo was taken using fluorescent light. The solid basalt rock is gray, the clay minerals are orange, and the bacterial cells are green spheres. (Credit: Suzuki et al. 2020, DOI: 10.1038/s42003-020-0860-1, CC BY 4.0)

Microbes live in tiny clay-filled cracks in solid rock millions of years old

TOKYO (University of Tokyo PR) — Newly discovered single-celled creatures living deep beneath the seafloor have given researchers clues about how they might find life on Mars. These bacteria were discovered living in tiny cracks inside volcanic rocks after researchers persisted over a decade of trial and error to find a new way to examine the rocks.

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Billionaire Milner Eyes Private Missions to Search for Extraterrestrial Life

Hydrothermal activity in Enceladus’ core and the rise of organic-rich bubbles. (Credit: ESA; F. Postberg et al — 2018)

Billionaire Yuri Milner, founder of Breakthrough Initiatives, is eying a private missions to search for life elsewhere in the Solar System, Space.com reports.

Breakthrough Initiatives, which already scans the heavens for possible signals from faraway alien civilizations, is considering looking for E.T. on worlds close to home, founder Yuri Milner said.

“We are thinking very seriously about solar system-based initiatives,” Milner said here Sunday (Nov. 4) at the seventh annual Breakthrough Prize ceremony at NASA’s Ames Research Center. “We’re thinking, within our foundation, is there something we can do, privately funded, which will supplement the government-funded projects?

{…]

So, where might this putative Breakthrough mission go? Milner cited as possibilities Jupiter’s moon Europa and the Saturn satellite Enceladus, both of which have oceans of liquid water beneath their icy shells, as well as Venus.

Venus may seem like an odd choice, given that its surface is bone-dry and hot enough to melt lead. But conditions in the clouds, about 25 miles (40 kilometers) up, are much more life-friendly, Milner noted.











ARADS Project Designs Tools for Finding Signs of Life on Other Worlds

Atacama Desert in Chile (Credit: NASA)

 

ATACAMA DESERT, Chile (NASA PR) — How would you search for signs of life – traces of tiny, living microbes or their fossilized remains – in an extreme and distant environment? NASA scientists and engineers are working on an answer to that question, aiming to find out if life ever evolved on the planet Mars and if it still harbors life today.

A project called the Atacama Rover Astrobiology Drilling Studies, or ARADS, has been designing tools and techniques for future exploration and testing them in one of the most Mars-like places on Earth: Chile’s Atacama Desert.

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Awesome Find: Data Point to Great Lake on Europa

Europa's "Great Lake." Researchers predict many more such lakes are scattered throughout the moon's icy shell. Credit: Britney Schmidt/Dead Pixel VFX/Univ. of Texas at Austin.

NASA PR — Data from a NASA planetary mission have provided scientists evidence of what appears to be a body of liquid water, equal in volume to the North American Great Lakes, beneath the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

The data suggest there is significant exchange between Europa’s icy shell and the ocean beneath. This information could bolster arguments that Europa’s global subsurface ocean represents a potential habitat for life elsewhere in our solar system. The findings are published in the scientific journal Nature.

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NASA Mission to Search for Life on Europa

Is Jupiter’s Bizarre Moon Our Best Hope for Finding Extraterrestrial Life?
Discover Magazine

Jupiter’s moon Europa is a forbidding world, yet NASA intends to devote billions of dollars over the next decade to getting there. At the center of this effort will be the most complicated orbital explorer ever built, each of its components carefully armored against the deadly stream of particles in Jupiter’s massive wake. The orbiter will require six years to reach its destination. Then, when it arrives at Europa, engineers will consider the mission successful if it survives for just three months of exploration before shorting out.

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NRC Report Recommends Strict Quarantine on Mars Samples

marsholerasp1

The National Research Council has released a report calling for the strictest of quarantine procedures relating to any soil and rock samples returned from Mars.

The Assessment of Planetary Protection Requirements for Mars Sample Return Missions report recommends that “samples returned from Mars by spacecraft should be contained and treated as though potentially hazardous until proven otherwise.”

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Is Europa the Place to Find Life?

Eureka! It’s Europa as hunt for life revs up
Arizona Daily Star

That’s where NASA and the European Space Agency have chosen to send their next flagship mission, to further explore the possibilities of life existing under the icy surface of Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon.

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