NASA Scientists Confirm Water Vapor on Europa

On the left is a view of Europa taken from 2.9 million kilometers (1.8 million miles) away on March 2, 1979 by the Voyager 1 spacecraft. Next is a color image of Europa taken by the Voyager 2 spacecraft during its close encounter on July 9, 1979. On the right is a view of Europa made from images taken by the Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990s. (Credits: NASA/JPL)

By Lonnie 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.

(more…)

NASA Instrument to Probe Planet Clouds on European Mission

This artist’s concept shows the European Space Agency’s ARIEL spacecraft on its way to Lagrange Point 2 (L2) — a gravitationally stable, Sun-centric orbit — where it will be shielded from the Sun and have a clear view of the sky. NASA’s JPL will manage the mission’s CASE instrument. (Credits: ESA/STFC RAL Space/UCL/Europlanet-Science Office)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — NASA will contribute an instrument to a European space mission that will explore the atmospheres of hundreds of planets orbiting stars beyond our Sun, or exoplanets, for the first time.

The instrument, called the Contribution to ARIEL Spectroscopy of Exoplanets, or CASE, adds scientific capabilities to ESA’s (the European Space Agency’s) Atmospheric Remote-sensing Infrared Exoplanet Large-survey, or ARIEL, mission.

(more…)

White House Wants Congress to Provide More Money for Artemis, Dump SLS as Europa Mission Launcher

The core stage test team recently completed structural testing confirming the stage’s liquid hydrogen tank structural design is good for conditions that will be experienced in the rocket’s initial configuration, called Block 1, during the Artemis I launch. (Credits: NASA/Tyler Martin)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

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).

(more…)

Europe’s JUICE Spacecraft Begins to Take Shape

Unpacking of JUICE primary structure in Lampoldshausen. (Credits: Airbus, ArianeGroup)

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.

(more…)

Europa Clipper’s Mission to Jupiter’s Icy Moon Confirmed

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

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 IG Audit Finds Management and Schedule Issues with Europa Missions

The Clipper spacecraft flies over the surface of Europa in this artist’s rendering. NASA is currently studying this reduced-cost mission which would use at least 48 flybys to explore the moon instead of entering into orbit. (Credit: NASA / JPL / Michael Carroll)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

Despite early-stage robust funding, NASA is facing serious management and schedule challenges in its ambitious Europa Clipper program that will send an orbiter and lander to Jupiter’s ice covered moon beginning in 2023.

“Specifically, NASA’s aggressive development schedule, a stringent conflict of interest process during instrument selection, and an insufficient evaluation of cost and schedule estimates has increased project integration challenges and led the Agency to accept instrument cost proposals subsequently found to be far too optimistic,” the audit found.

(more…)











NIAC Award: Ultra Lightweight Nuclear Electric Propulsion Probe for Deep Space Exploration

SPEAR Probe (Credit: Tory Howe)

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.

(more…)











Europa Clipper High-Gain Antenna Undergoes Testing

A full-scale prototype of the high-gain antenna on NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft is undergoing testing in the Experimental Test Range at NASA’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. (Credit: NASA/Langley)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA/JPL-Caltech PR) — It probably goes without saying, but this isn’t your everyday satellite dish.

In fact, it’s not a satellite dish at all. It’s a high-gain antenna (HGA), and a future version of it will send and receive signals to and from Earth from a looping orbit around Jupiter.

(more…)











NASA Receives Significant Funding Increase with $21.5 Billion Budget

The Lunar Gateway (Credit: NASA)

by Douglas Messier
Managing Editor

NASA has received a $21.5 billion budget for fiscal year 2019, which is $736.86 million above FY 2018 and $1.6 billion above the total requested by the Trump Administration.

The funding, which came more than four months into the fiscal year,  was included in an appropriations bill signed by President Donald Trump on Friday. NASA’s budget has been on an upward trajectory over the last few years. In FY 2018, the space agency received an $1.64 billion increase over the previous year.

(more…)











SpaceX Protests NASA Contract Award to ULA

An artist’s concept of the Lucy Mission. (Credit: SwRI)

SpaceNews reports that SpaceX has filed a protest over NASA’s decision to award an $148.3 million contract to rival United Launch Alliance for the launch of the Lucy asteroid mission.

“NASA has issued a stop work order on the agency’s Lucy mission after a protest of the contract award was filed with the Government Accountability Office,” agency spokesperson Tracy Young said Feb. 13. “NASA is always cognizant of its mission schedule, but we are not able to comment on pending litigation.”

SpaceX confirmed that the company was protesting the contract. “Since SpaceX has started launching missions for NASA, this is the first time the company has challenged one of the agency’s award decisions,” a company spokesperson said in a statement to SpaceNews.

“SpaceX offered a solution with extraordinarily high confidence of mission success at a price dramatically lower than the award amount, so we believe the decision to pay vastly more to Boeing and Lockheed for the same mission was therefore not in the best interest of the agency or the American taxpayers,” the spokesperson added. ULA is a joint venture of Boeing and Lockheed Martin….

A key factor in the decision to award the contract to ULA was schedule certainty. Lucy has a complex mission profile with a series of flybys in order to visit several asteroid either leading or following Jupiter in its orbit around the sun. That results in a launch window that is open for only about 20 days in October 2021. Should the launch miss that window, the mission cannot be flown as currently planned.

The Government Accountability Office has until May 22 to render a decision.











NASA Selects ULA’s Atlas V to Launch Lucy Mission to Jupiter’s Trojan Asteroids

ULA Atlas V rocket carrying the AEHF-4 mission for the U.S. Air Force lifts off from Space Launch Complex-41. (Credit: ULA)

Centennial, Colo., Jan. 31, 2019 ULA PR) – NASA’s Launch Services Program announced today that it selected United Launch Alliance’s (ULA’s) proven Atlas V vehicle to launch the Lucy mission, which is the first mission to Jupiter’s swarm of Trojan asteroids. This award resulted from a competitive Launch Service Task Order evaluation under the NASA Launch Services II contract.

(more…)











Lucy in the Sky with…Asteroids

Conceptual image of the Lucy mission to the Trojan asteroids. (Credits: NASA/SwRI)

By Tamsyn Brann
NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center

A little over 4 billion years ago, the planets in our solar system coexisted with vast numbers of small rocky or icy objects orbiting the Sun. These were the last remnants of the planetesimals – the primitive building blocks that formed the planets. Most of these leftover objects were then lost, as shifts in the orbits of the giant planets scattered them to the distant outer reaches of the solar system or beyond. But some were captured in two less-distant regions, near points where the gravitational influence of Jupiter and the Sun balance, and have remained trapped there, mostly untouched, for billions of years.

(more…)











Cosmic Detective Work: Why We Care About Space Rocks

This artist’s concept depicts the spacecraft of NASA’s Psyche mission near the mission’s target, the metal asteroid Psyche. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/Arizona State Univ./Space Systems Loral/Peter Rubin)

By Elizabeth Landau
NASA

The entire history of human existence is a tiny blip in our solar system’s 4.5-billion-year history. No one was around to see planets forming and undergoing dramatic changes before settling in their present configuration. In order to understand what came before us — before life on Earth and before Earth itself — scientists need to hunt for clues to that mysterious distant past.

(more…)











Study: Europa Could Be a Very Tricky Place to Land

The green oval highlights the plumes Hubble observed on Europa. The area also corresponds to a warm region on Europa’s surface. The map is based on observations by the Galileo spacecraft (Credits: NASA/ESA/STScI/USGS)

CARDIFF, UK (Cardiff University PR) — A location often earmarked as a potential habitat for extra-terrestrial life could prove to be a tricky place for spacecraft to land, new research has revealed.

A team led by scientists from Cardiff University has predicted that fields of sharp ice growing to almost 15 metres [49 feet] tall could be scattered across the equatorial regions of Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

(more…)











NASA Juno Data Indicate Another Possible Volcano on Jupiter Moon Io

This annotated image highlights the location of the new heat source close to the south pole of Io. The image was generated from data collected on Dec. 16, 2017, by the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument aboard NASA’s Juno mission when the spacecraft was about 290,000 miles (470,000 kilometers) from the Jovian moon. The scale to the right of image depicts of the range of temperatures displayed in the infrared image. Higher recorded temperatures are characterized in brighter colors – lower temperatures in darker colors. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SwRI/ASI/INAF/JIRAM)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA JPL/Caltech PR) — Data collected by NASA’s Juno spacecraft using its Jovian InfraRed Auroral Mapper (JIRAM) instrument point to a new heat source close to the south pole of Io that could indicate a previously undiscovered volcano on the small moon of Jupiter. The infrared data were collected on Dec. 16, 2017, when Juno was about 290,000 miles (470,000 kilometers) away from the moon.

“The new Io hotspot JIRAM picked up is about 200 miles (300 kilometers) from the nearest previously mapped hotspot,” said Alessandro Mura, a Juno co-investigator from the National Institute for Astrophysics in Rome. “We are not ruling out movement or modification of a previously discovered hot spot, but it is difficult to imagine one could travel such a distance and still be considered the same feature.”

The Juno team will continue to evaluate data collected on the Dec. 16 flyby, as well as JIRAM data that will be collected during future (and even closer) flybys of Io. Past NASA missions of exploration that have visited the Jovian system (Voyagers 1 and 2, Galileo, Cassini and New Horizons), along with ground-based observations, have located over 150 active volcanoes on Io so far. Scientists estimate that about another 250 or so are waiting to be discovered.

Juno has logged nearly 146 million miles (235 million kilometers) since entering Jupiter’s orbit on July 4, 2016. Juno’s 13th science pass will be on July 16.

Juno launched on Aug. 5, 2011, from Cape Canaveral, Florida. During its mission of exploration, Juno soars low over the planet’s cloud tops — as close as about 2,100 miles (3,400 kilometers). During these flybys, Juno is probing beneath the obscuring cloud cover of Jupiter and studying its auroras to learn more about the planet’s origins, structure, atmosphere and magnetosphere.

JPL manages the Juno mission for the principal investigator, Scott Bolton, of Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio. The Juno mission is part of the New Frontiers Program managed by NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the Science Mission Directorate. The Italian Space Agency (ASI), contributed two instruments, a Ka-band frequency translator (KaT) and the Jovian Infrared Auroral Mapper (JIRAM). Lockheed Martin Space, Denver, built the spacecraft. JPL is a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California.

More information on the Juno mission is available at:

https://www.nasa.gov/juno

https://www.missionjuno.swri.edu

The public can follow the mission on Facebook and Twitter at:

https://www.facebook.com/NASAJuno

https://www.twitter.com/NASAJuno