NASA is exploring a new world, where it can possibly find signs of alien life — the Jupiter moon Europa — and it is on track for a mid-2020s launch.
Europa Clipper Mission
NASA officials revealed on Aug. 19 that the U.S. space agency has cleared the Europa Clipper mission to proceed through the final-design phase and into spacecraft construction and testing.
If all things go as planned, NASA could launch the Europa Clipper mission in 2023 or 2025.
"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.
Zurbuchen said that they are building upon the scientific missions of Galileo and Cassini spacecraft, which orbited Jupiter and Saturn, respectively, to have a better understanding of the origin of life on Earth and elsewhere.
Just like Earth, Europa is believed to have an iron core and a rocky mantle. The Galileo mission in the late 1990s gathered strong evidence suggesting the existence of an ocean of salty water hiding beneath the frozen shells of Europa. If this indeed exists, this ocean could hold more than twice the amount of water on Earth.
Scientists think that this water is in contact with the rocky core of the moon that could make possible a range of interesting chemical reactions. This is why Europa is one of the extraterrestrial worlds astrobiologists think have the potential to host alien life.
Mission Not To Find Alien Life
Europa Clipper's mission, however, is not to find signs of life. The probe's mission is to study the moon's habitability. The spacecraft will characterize Europa's huge ocean during flybys and collect a range of data, which include those that could help scientists identify a good touchdown sites for a potential life-hunting lander mission.
"The spacecraft would orbit the giant planet about every two weeks, providing many opportunities for close flybys of Europa," NASA said. "The mission plan includes 45 flybys, during which the spacecraft would image the moon's icy surface at high resolution and investigate its composition and the structure of its interior and icy shell."