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All systems go for NASA’s Europa mission

A new NASA mission to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa is moving forward from concept review to development. 

Europa is considered one of the most promising places in the solar system to search for signs of life, which will be the focus of the NASA mission. The agency will conduct a detailed survey of Europa and investigate its habitability.

“Today we’re taking an exciting step from concept to mission, in our quest to find signs of life beyond Earth,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.

“Observations of Europa have provided us with tantalizing clues over the last two decades, and the time has come to seek answers to one of humanity’s most profound questions.”

NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter in the late 1990s produced strong evidence that Europa, about the size of Earth’s moon, has an ocean beneath its frozen crust.

If proven to exist, this global ocean could hold more than twice as much water as Earth. With abundant salt water, a rocky sea floor, and the energy and chemistry provided by tidal heating, Europa may have the ingredients needed to support simple organisms.

The mission plan calls for a spacecraft to be launched to Jupiter in the 2020s, arriving in the distant planet’s orbit after a journey of several years. The spacecraft would orbit the giant planet about every two weeks, providing many opportunities for close flybys of Europa.

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California, has been assigned the responsibility of managing the project. JPL has been studying the multiple-flyby mission concept, in collaboration with the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, since 2011.

For more information about NASA’s mission to Europa, visit http://www.nasa.gov/europa

Bill Condie

Bill Condie is a science journalist based in Adelaide, Australia.

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