Science Overview of the Europa Clipper Astrobiology Mission

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
May 24, 2024
Filed under , , ,
Science Overview of the Europa Clipper Astrobiology Mission
The position of each instrument on the Europa Clipper spacecraft, illustrated in the spacecraft’s stowed position. The optical remote sensing instruments (Europa-UVS, EIS NAC, EIS WAC, MISE, and E-THEMIS) have their apertures along the spacecraft’s +Y direction, which will be oriented nadir (toward Europa) during flybys; all except MISE are co-located on the “nadir deck.” MASPEX and SUDA are oriented along the spacecraft’s +Z axis, which will be oriented in the ram direction (the direction of spacecraft motion) during flybys. The REASON antennas are mounted on the edges of the solar array panels and will be oriented parallel to Europa’s surface during flybys. The positions of PIMS Upper and PIMS Lower permit combined view of plasma around the spacecraft with only minor obstructions, and the three ECM sensors and 8.5-m magnetometer boom are stowed within a cannister for deployment after launch. Accommodation considerations have ensured that all instruments can operate simultaneously and synergistically. Illustration by Steve Barajas (JPL/Caltech)

The goal of NASA’s Europa Clipper mission is to assess the habitability of Jupiter’s moon Europa. After entering Jupiter orbit in 2030, the flight system will collect science data while flying past Europa 49 times at typical closest approach distances of 25–100 km.

The mission’s objectives are to investigate Europa’s interior (ice shell and ocean), composition, and geology; the mission will also search for and characterize any current activity including possible plumes. The science objectives will be accomplished with a payload consisting of remote sensing and in-situ instruments. Remote sensing investigations cover the ultraviolet, visible, near infrared, and thermal infrared wavelength ranges of the electromagnetic spectrum, as well as an ice-penetrating radar.

In-situ investigations measure the magnetic field, dust grains, neutral gas, and plasma surrounding Europa. Gravity science will be achieved using the telecommunication system, and a radiation monitoring engineering subsystem will provide complementary science data. The flight system is designed to enable all science instruments to operate and gather data simultaneously.

Mission planning and operations are guided by scientific requirements and observation strategies, while appropriate updates to the plan will be made tactically as the instruments and Europa are characterized and discoveries emerge. Following collection and validation, all science data will be archived in NASA’s Planetary Data System. Communication, data sharing, and publication policies promote visibility, collaboration, and mutual interdependence across the full Europa Clipper science team, to best achieve the interdisciplinary science necessary to understand Europa.

Science Overview of the Europa Clipper Mission, open access – free download


Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA Space Station Payload manager/space biologist, Away Teams, Journalist, Lapsed climber, Synaesthete, Na’Vi-Jedi-Freman-Buddhist-mix, ASL, Devon Island and Everest Base Camp veteran, (he/him) 🖖🏻