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NASA Mission To Jovian Moon Europa Facing Tough Challenges Ahead

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NASA has two potential missions to explore Jupiter's icy moon Europa, but reports revealed that both are serious trouble.

On Wednesday, May 29, NASA's Office of Inspector General has released an internal investigation, revealing that the Europa Clipper and Europa Lander are facing a number of issues, including schedule and budget restrictions.

"Our audit found that despite robust early-stage funding, NASA's aggressive development schedule, a stringent conflict of interest process during instrument selection, an insufficient evaluation of cost and schedule estimates, and technical workforce shortages have increased instrument integration challenges and development risks for the Clipper mission," John Schulz, a management analyst at the Office of Inspector General, explained in a video that accompanied the report.

Europa Missions Face Cost, Schedule Problems

The Europa Clipper, which is scheduled for launch in 2023, will orbit the Jovian moon for more than 3 years to investigate whether it has the right conditions to harbor life. Previous missions found strong evidence that beneath its icy crust is an ocean of liquid water.

Meanwhile, the Europa Lander, which will leave Earth in 2025, will make a touchdown on the celestial body to look for signs of life on the surface.

According to the report, since 2013, Congress has allocated more than $2 billion to the development of both missions, primarily of the Clipper. The funding has exceeded $785 million that NASA requested in the same period.

However, the funding might not be sufficient to keep the spacecraft on track for its 2023 launch. According to the report, the Clipper is currently facing "a series of significant developmental and personnel resource challenges."

The Office of Inspector General cited the selection and development of the instruments that will be used during the mission. The report revealed that the cost estimates for the instrument proposals were far too optimistic.

Moreover, there was a conflict of interest resulting for the management team behind the Clipper at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to be excluded from the selection process because the instrument proposals came from teams also at JPL.

Then, there is a shortage of personnel. As of December, about 10 percent of Clipper's staff were vacant because JPL is running four other key projects, including Mars 2020.

Moreover, Congress has ordered NASA to launch both missions on the SLS rocket which, until now, is still in development and is facing a slew of other problems of its own. The report said the Clipper might need a more advanced version of the rocket to launch.

Possible Mission Delays

Another concern that the report brought up is the Lander, which is still in its preliminary stage. The investigators warned that by launching the second probe so soon after Clipper, it might not be able to integrate the findings made by its predecessors to its own mission plans.

The report gave 10 recommendations to the space agency, including reevaluating the schedule of mission milestones.

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