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NASA's Clipper: Europa's Life Quest



  Apr 17, 2024

NASA's Clipper: Europa's Life Quest



NASA is preparing to launch an ambitious mission, the Clipper spacecraft, to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa in search of extraterrestrial life.

Summary:

The Clipper spacecraft will be launched aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket from SpaceX in October 2024 and will take over five years to reach Jupiter. The mission aims to explore Europa, one of the dozens of moons orbiting Jupiter, which may have conditions that could support life. The spacecraft is equipped with instruments like cameras, spectrometers, a magnetometer, and a radar that can penetrate through ice, bounce off liquid water, and return to the surface to provide information about the thickness of the ice and the location of liquid water.


FAQs:

What is the purpose of the Clipper mission?

The Clipper mission aims to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa to determine whether it has conditions that could support life. The mission is part of NASA’s quest to answer the fundamental question, “Are we alone in the cosmos?” What is special about Europa? Europa, nearly the size of Earth’s moon, has a subsurface ocean that may harbor conditions suitable for microbial life due to its potential for heat and energy from tidal forces.

What challenges does the mission face?

Europa’s challenging environment poses obstacles for exploration. Intense radiation degrades instruments, data transmission takes 45 minutes due to vast distances, and sustaining power with solar arrays is difficult, fluctuating from 23,000 watts near Earth to 700 watts near Jupiter.

What is the timeline for the mission?

The Clipper spacecraft will be launched in October 2024 and is expected to reach Jupiter and Europa in 2031. The mission aims to explore until around 2034, culminating in a deliberate crash into one of Jupiter’s moons.

What precautions are being taken for the mission?

The probe, which costs the US space agency a whopping $5 billion, is currently at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, sitting in a “clean room” - a sealed area only accessible to people wearing head-to-toe covering. The agency has to make sure that the probe remains free of contaminants to avoid transporting Earthly microbes to Europa. user shorter


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