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.
The White House wants Congress to provide more money for the Artemis moon landing program, and to save about $1.5 billion by dropping the requirement that NASA launch the Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter’s icy moon on the Space Launch System (SLS).
LAMPOLDSHAUSEN, Germany (ESA PR) — The assembly of the flight model of ESA’s JUICE spacecraft began in September, with the delivery of the spacecraft’s primary structure, followed by integration of the propulsion system that will enable the mission to reach and study Jupiter and its moons.
On 2 September, the main skeleton of JUICE was delivered to the Arianegroup facility in Lampoldshausen, Germany.
WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — An icy ocean world in our solar system that could tell us more about the potential for life on other worlds is coming into focus with confirmation of the EuropaClipper mission’s next phase. The decision allows the mission to progress to completion of final design, followed by the construction and testing of the entire spacecraft and science payload.
“We are all excited about the decision that moves the Europa Clipper
mission one key step closer to unlocking the mysteries of this ocean
world,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for the Science
Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington. “We are building
upon the scientific insights received from the flagship Galileo and
Cassini spacecraft and working to advance our understanding of our
cosmic origin, and even life elsewhere.”
The mission will conduct an in-depth exploration of Jupiter’s moon,
Europa, and investigate whether the icy moon could harbor conditions
suitable for life, honing our insights into astrobiology. To
develop this mission in the most cost-effective fashion, NASA is
targeting to have the Europa Clipper spacecraft complete and ready for
launch as early as 2023. The agency baseline commitment, however,
supports a launch readiness date by 2025.
NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California leads the
development of the Europa Clipper mission in partnership with the Johns
Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory for the Science Mission
Directorate. Europa Clipper is managed by the Planetary Missions Program
Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.
NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Program Phase I Award: Up to $125,000 for 9 Months
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. If the total mass of an NEP system could be reduced to levels that were able to be launched on smaller vehicles, these devices could deliver scientific payloads to anywhere in the solar system.
PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — NASA has decided to replace the current magnetometer on the upcoming Europa Clipper mission with a less complex instrument. The Europa Clipper mission, launching in the 2020s, will be the first dedicated and detailed study of a probable ocean world beyond Earth. Jupiter’s moon Europa, slightly smaller than Earth’s Moon, may host a liquid water ocean under its frozen shell, making it a tantalizing place to search for signs of life.