NASA and the European Space Agency are not exactly pursuing a lander mission together.
This was recently revealed by a NASA spokesperson to Fox News, following news from last month that the two space agencies were joining forces for a joint lander mission to Jupiter moon Europa when 2025 comes along.
Not Teaming Up For Europa Lander Mission
Dubbed the Joint Europa Mission, the proposal was revealed on April 24 by Michel Blanc of the Research Institute in Astrophysics and Planetology in Toulouse, France. At the yearly European Geosciences Union meeting in Austria, he suggested the two agencies could work together to design and mount the mission for launching in the mid-2020s.
“The whole idea is that if we think exploring Europa for life is important, it should be an international adventure,” said Blanc, pointing to the “ultimate goal” of getting to the lunar surface and looking for signs of life.
The NASA rep recently denied the news.
“An independent fringe researcher presented a paper … that suggested maybe NASA and ESA could work together. It is not the case at all,” he told Fox, clarifying that the submarine is not part of any official mission yet.
While there is a prototype design, it’s still a long way from being molded into a funded mission, the NASA rep said, adding that the speculated partnership could be an exciting way to seek out life on Europa if ever it happens.
The Fuss Over Europa Moon
Europa, which is among the giant planet’s 67 moons, has a liquid ocean hidden beneath an icy crust estimated to be up to 15 miles thick. This crust protects the water from the planet’s strong radiation belts, strengthening claims that it could potentially host life in our solar system.
At present, researchers are working on the autonomous submarine ARTEMIS, a 2,800-pound vessel for exploring the dark waters underneath the ice of Europa. The bot has been demonstrating great capability and promise, but deploying it on Europa is not expected to happen very soon.
Jupiter’s radiation is a challenge - the lander could only make it for 20 days on Europan surface even while housed in a radiation vault. This makes it necessary to accomplish all the needed science in less than a month.
Contamination is another issue, where the spacecraft should be sterilized to prevent tainting the surface with earthly microbes. But above all, it’s about human technologies’ ability to detect the biosignatures of life there.
“Unfortunately, we don’t have a Star Trek-style tricorder that we can just point at the surface!” said Europa mission scientist Cynthia Phillips, working on a lander concept at NASA.
A mission to fly by the icy Europa world, called the Europa Clipper mission, is scheduled for launch in 2020. Here, the spacecraft is planned to fly by the moon up to 45 times to image the surface at high resolution, as well as collect data about lunar composition and its icy shell and interior structure.
However, President Donald Trump's federal budget blueprint for 2018, released on March 16, would ax the proposed mission to send a life-seeking lander on the surface of the ocean-harboring Jupiter moon.