If there is alien life somewhere else in our solar system, Europa is probably where it’s most likely to be. Observations have indicated that the Jovian moon has a salty, subsurface ocean, and, as our experience on Earth has shown, where there is water, there is life. NASA is planning on a Europa lander mission as suggested in the new SDT report.
In 2015, NASA revealed its plans to send a spacecraft to conduct several close flybys of Europa sometime in the 2020s. Now, the space agency has detailed a mission to send a lander to the icy moon.
SDT Report details – 264 pages
The 264-page report lists out three key science goals for a future lander mission : searching for life on the moon, assessing its habitability by analyzing material from the surface, and characterizing Europa’s surface and subsurface to support future robotic missions.
“The Europa Lander mission would be a pathfinder for characterizing the biological potential of Europa’s ocean through direct study of any chemical, geological, and possibly biological, signatures as expressed on, and just below, the surface of Europa,” the report states. “This mission would significantly advance our understanding of Europa as an ocean world, even in the absence of any definitive signs of life, and would provide the foundation for the future robotic exploration of Europa.”
The report gives a glimpse of what the lander may look like, and describes the instruments that would be needed to accomplish its mission. From the artist’s rendering illustration (cover photo), the four feet Europa lander might carry an extendable sampling arm and a circular dish on top that would serve as a high-gain antenna and a camera mast. Electronics on all elements of the spacecraft that are sensitive to radiation would be heavily shielded to protect them from the high-energy particles coming from Jupiter’s intense magnetic field.
“The spacecraft in its stowed launch configuration would be comprised of five primary elements. These elements are the Carrier Relay Orbiter stage, the Deorbit Stage, the Descent Stage, the Lander, and the Bio-Barrier,” the SDT report said. “In its launch configuration, the Deorbit Stage, Descent Stage, and Lander would be fully enclosed within the Bio-Barrier, and the Lander inverted with respect to its landed orientation.”
An estimate for the launch date of the Europa lander would be sometime in 2024 followed by landing on Europa after “space travel” time of 7 years, which could be in 2031.
Photo by NASA (SDT Report)