Europa Clipper

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Europa Clipper
440 europa hab ac.jpg
Artist's concept of the proposed Europa Clipper space probe.
(Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)
Operator JPL/APL
Mission type Multiple flybys of Europa while in Jupiter orbit
Launch date 2025 (proposed)[1][2]
Launch vehicle Atlas V 551 or SLS[3]
Mission duration Cruise: 6.4 years
(Atlas V and VEEGA)
Cruise: 1.9 years[4]
(SLS direct)
Science: 3.5 years
Orbits 32 [5] to 48 [3]
Homepage Europa Clipper - NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Power 150W from MMRTG or Solar cells [6]

Europa Clipper is a mission concept under study by NASA that would conduct detailed reconnaissance of Jupiter's moon Europa and would investigate whether it has conditions suitable for life.[5][7]

The mission name is a reference to the lightweight clipper ships of the 19th century that routinely plied trade routes around the world.[5]


The concept to achieve "global-regional coverage" of Europa during successive flybys. (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The goals of the proposed Europa Clipper space probe are to explore Europa, investigate its habitability and aid in the selection of future landing sites.[7][8][9] Specifically, the objectives are to study:[10]

  • Ice shell and ocean: Confirm the existence, and characterize the nature, of water within or beneath the ice, and processes of surface-ice-ocean exchange.
  • Composition: Distribution and chemistry of key compounds and the links to ocean composition.
  • Geology: Characteristics and formation of surface features, including sites of recent or current activity.

The Europa Clipper would not orbit Europa, but instead orbit Jupiter and conduct at least 32 low-altitude flybys of Europa during its mission.[7] Each flyby will cover a different sector of Europa in order to achieve a medium-quality global topographic survey, including ice thickness.[7] The Europa Clipper could conceivably flyby at low altitude through the plumes of water vapor erupting from the moon's icy crust, thus sampling its subsurface ocean without having to land on the surface and drill though the ice.[1][2]

Scientific payload[edit]

The concept for the operation of the science instruments on-board Europa Clipper during a Europa flyby. (Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech)

The notional science payload consists of six instruments:[5][7]

The scientists proposing this mission are also considering deploying several nanosatellites from the spacecraft near Europa.[7] Europa Clipper will relay signals from the satellites with its high gain antenna back to Earth. With a booster stage, some nanosatellites will be capable of entering orbit around Europa.[7] However, including additional mass would only be possible if the Europa Clipper is launched with the powerful Space Launch System (SLS) heavy lift launch vehicle.[7]

Europa Clipper would inherit tested technology of the Galileo and Juno Jupiter orbiters with regards to radiation protection. Shielding will be provided by 150 kilograms of material. To maximize its effectiveness, the electronics will be nested in the core of the spacecraft for additional radiation protection.[7]


Multiple flybys of Europa by a previous mission collected the data for this mosaic

Europa has emerged as one of the top locations in the Solar System in terms of potential habitability and the possibility of hosting extraterrestrial life.[11][12][3] The proposal and scope of the mission are still in the conceptual stage, but the approximate cost is estimated at $2 billion.[12][3]

In March 2013, $75 million USD were authorized to expand on the formulation of mission activities, mature the proposed science goals, and fund preliminary instrument development,[13] as suggested in 2011 by the Planetary Science Decadal Survey.[12][4] In March 2014 the White House's 2015 federal budget request, allocated $15 million to fund very early "pre-formulation" work.[1][2]

The mission's science definition team is chaired by Louise Prockter from the Johns Hopkins University's the Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), and Barry Goldstein from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL),[4] who presented an updated concept for Europa Clipper in July 2013.[10]


In September 2013 it was decided that solar panels are the least expensive option to power the spacecraft. Early analysis suggest that each panel will have a surface area of 18m2 and produce 150 watts continuously when pointed towards the sun while at Jupiter.[6] While in Europa's shadow, batteries will enable the spacecraft to continue gathering data. However, ionizing radiation can damage solar cells. The Europa Clipper's orbit causes the spacecraft pass through Jupiter's intense magnetosphere, which is expected to gradually degrade the solar cells as the mission progresses.[7]

A more reliable alternative to solar panels is Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generators, fueled with plutonium-238.[7] The power source has already been demonstrated in the Mars Science Laboratory mission. Five units are currently available, with one reserved for the Mars 2020 rover mission and another as backup. With the restart of plutonium production, it is feasible to use MMRTGs on Europa Clipper.[7]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Wall, Mike (5 March 2014). "NASA hopes to launch ambitious mission to icy Jupiter moon". Retrieved 2014-04-15. 
  2. ^ a b c Clark, Stephen (14 March 2014). "Economics, water plumes to drive Europa mission study". Spaceflight Now. Retrieved 2014-04-15. 
  3. ^ a b c d Dreier, Casey (12 December 2013). "Europa: No Longer a "Should," But a "Must"". The Planetary Society. 
  4. ^ a b c Leone, Dan (22 July 2013). "NASA's Europa Mission Concept Progresses on the Back Burner". Space News. 
  5. ^ a b c d "Europa Clipper". Jet Propulsion Laboratory (NASA). November 2013. 
  6. ^ a b Dreier, Casey (5 September 2013). "NASA's Europa Mission Concept Rejects ASRGs -- May Use Solar Panels at Jupiter Instead". The Planetary Society. 
  7. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n Kane, Van (26 May 2013). "Europa Clipper Update". Future Planetary Exploration. 
  8. ^ Pappalardo, Robert T.; Vance, S.; Bagenal, F.; Bills, B.G.; Blaney, D.L.; Blankenship, D.D.; Brinckerhoff, W.B.; et al. (2013). "Science Potential from a Europa Lander". Astrobiology 13 (8). doi:10.1089/ast.2013.1003. Retrieved 2013-12-14. 
  9. ^ Senske, D. (2 October 2012). "Europa Mission Concept Study Update" (PDF). Presentation to Planetary Science Subcommittee. 
  10. ^ a b Pappalardo, Robert; Cooke, Brian; Goldstein, Barry; Prockter, Louise; Senske, Dave; Magner, Tom (July 2013). "The Europa Clipper" (PDF). OPAG Update. Lunar and Planetary Institute. 
  11. ^ Schulze-Makuch, Louis N.; Irwin (2001). "Alternative Energy Sources Could Support Life on Europa" (PDF). Departments of Geological and Biological Sciences. University of Texas at El Paso. Archived from the original on 2006-07-03. 
  12. ^ a b c Zabarenko, Deborah (7 March 2011). "Lean U.S. missions to Mars, Jupiter moon recommended". Reuters. 
  13. ^ "Destination: Europa". Europa SETI. 29 March 2013.