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posted by Fnord666 on Wednesday August 21 2019, @01:51PM   Printer-friendly
from the you-were-warned dept.

Mission to Jupiter's Icy Moon Confirmed

An icy ocean world in our solar system that could tell us more about the potential for life on other worlds is coming into focus with confirmation of the Europa Clipper mission's next phase. The decision allows the mission to progress to completion of final design, followed by the construction and testing of the entire spacecraft and science payload.

[...] The mission will conduct an in-depth exploration of Jupiter's moon Europa and investigate whether the icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life, honing our insights into astrobiology. To develop this mission in the most cost-effective fashion, NASA is targeting to have the Europa Clipper spacecraft complete and ready for launch as early as 2023. The agency baseline commitment, however, supports a launch readiness date by 2025.

Also at Ars Technica, The Register, CNN, and CNET.

Related: Amino Acids Could Exist Just Centimeters Under Europa's Surface
Impact of the Midterm Elections May be Felt at NASA
White House Budget Request Would Move Launches from SLS to Commercial Providers


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Related Stories

Amino Acids Could Exist Just Centimeters Under Europa's Surface 15 comments

Europa Lander May Not Have to Dig Deep to Find Signs of Life

If signs of life exist on Jupiter's icy moon Europa, they might not be as hard to find as scientists had thought, a new study reports. [...] NASA aims to hunt for such samples in the not-too-distant future. The agency is developing a flyby mission called Europa Clipper, which is scheduled to launch in the early 2020s. Clipper will study Europa up close during dozens of flybys, some of which might be able to zoom through the moon's suspected water-vapor plumes. And NASA is also working on a possible post-Clipper lander mission that would search for evidence of life at or near the Europan surface.

It's unclear, however, just how deep a Europa lander would need to dig to have a chance of finding anything. That's because Europa orbits within Jupiter's radiation belts and is bombarded by fast-moving charged particles, which can turn amino acids and other possible biosignatures into mush.

That's where the new study comes in. NASA scientist Tom Nordheim and his colleagues modeled Europa's radiation environment in detail, laying out just how bad things get from place to place. They then combined these results with data from laboratory experiments documenting how quickly various radiation doses carve up amino acids (a stand-in here for complex biomolecules in general).

The researchers found significant variation, with some Europan locales (equatorial regions) getting about 10 times the radiation pounding of others (middle and high latitudes). At the most benign spots, the team determined, a lander would likely have to dig just 0.4 inches (1 centimeter) or so into the ice to find recognizable amino acids. In the high-blast zones, the target depth would be on the order of 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm). (This is not to imply that potential Europan organisms would still be alive at such depths, however; doses there are high enough to cook even the hardiest Earth microbes, study team members said.)

Also at Motherboard and Gizmodo.

Preservation of potential biosignatures in the shallow subsurface of Europa (DOI: 10.1038/s41550-018-0499-8) (DX)

Biosignature hide and seek (DOI: 10.1038/s41550-018-0542-9) (DX)

Politics: Impact of the Midterm Elections May be Felt at NASA 16 comments

The outcomes of several races in the 2018 midterm elections may have an impact on the Europa Clipper mission, as well as other NASA priorities:

Perhaps the most significant loss occurred in Texas's Seventh Congressional District, home to thousands of the employees at the Johnson Space Center in Houston. A political newcomer, Lizzie Pannill Fletcher, defeated the incumbent John Culberson, who has served in the House since 2001. Culberson, an attorney, doesn't have a science background. But he grew up in the 1960s building telescopes, toying with model rockets, and reading popular science magazines. For the past four years, Culberson has pushed his colleagues in the House and the Senate to steadily grow nasa's budget, for projects including its climate-science programs—which may come as a surprise, given the congressman's party line on climate change.

Culberson has fiercely supported one mission in particular: a journey to one of Jupiter's moons, the icy Europa. As chair of the House Subcommittee on Commerce, Justice, and Science, Culberson more than doubled the amount of money the space agency requested from Congress for an orbiter around Europa, from $265 million to $545 million. He also threw in $195 million to support a lander to the moon, which nasa hadn't even planned for, but would of course accept. Scientists suspect that Europa's frozen crust covers a liquid ocean that may sustain microbial life. Culberson was intent on sending something there to find it. "This will be tremendously expensive, but worth every penny," he said last year, during a visit to nasa's Jet Propulsion Laboratory to check its progress.

With Culberson out of the House, the funding portfolio for the Europa mission could change. "I don't see any obvious members of Congress, Republican or Democratic, who'd be taking up that mantle of leading the Europa efforts, so I imagine that those are likely to start to wane," said Casey Dreier, a senior space-policy adviser at the Planetary Society, a nonprofit space-advocacy group.

Dreier said the development of the Europa orbiter, known as Clipper, will certainly continue. Since nasa formally approved the mission in 2015, engineers and scientists have made significant progress on the design of the spacecraft. But without a steady flow of funding, its launch date could slip, he said. The lander is on shakier ground. "I don't think you're going to see money for the Europa lander to continue showing up, because that's money that nasa has not been requesting," Dreier said.

See also: Culberson's ouster could spell big problems for NASA's Orion program, experts say
NASA's Europa lander may be in jeopardy after the midterms — and some are fine with seeing it go
What the 2018 midterms mean for NASA and planetary science

Previously: House Spending Bill Offers NASA More Money Than the Agency or Administration Wanted


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White House Budget Request Would Move Launches from SLS to Commercial Providers 49 comments

NASA budget proposal targets SLS (Space Launch System)

The White House's fiscal year 2020 budget request for NASA proposes to delay work on an upgraded version of the Space Launch System and would transfer some of that vehicle's payloads to other rockets.

The proposal, released by the Office of Management and Budget March 11, offers a total of $21 billion for the space agency, a decrease of $500 million over what Congress appropriated in the final fiscal year 2019 spending bill signed into law Feb. 15.

A major element of the proposal is to defer work on the Block 1B version of the SLS, which would increase the rocket's performance by replacing its existing Interim Cryogenic Propulsion Stage with the more powerful Exploration Upper Stage. The budget "instead focuses the program on the completion of the initial version of the SLS and supporting a reliable SLS and Orion annual flight cadence," the OMB budget stated. The first SLS/Orion mission, without a crew, is now planned for the "early 2020s," according to the budget, an apparent slip from the planned 2020 launch of Exploration Mission 1.

NASA had previously planned to use the Block 1B version of SLS to launch elements of its lunar Gateway, using a "co-manifesting" capability enabled by the rocket's greater performance. Instead, according to the budget document, those components will be launched on "competitively procured vehicles, complementing crew transport flights on the SLS and Orion."

[...] The budget proposal would also remove one non-exploration payload from the SLS manifest. The proposal offers $600 million for the Europa Clipper mission, enabling a launch in 2023. However, NASA would instead seek to launch the mission on a commercial launch vehicle rather than SLS, a move it claims "would save over $700 million, allowing multiple new activities to be funded across the Agency." The fiscal year 2019 budget request also proposed a commercial launch of Europa Clipper, but Congress placed into law in the final funding bill the requirement to use SLS for that mission.

Are we nearing a good timeline?

Related: After the Falcon Heavy Launch, Time to Defund the Space Launch System?
House Spending Bill Offers NASA More Money Than the Agency or Administration Wanted
NASA Administrator Ponders the Fate of SLS in Interview
SpaceX's Falcon Heavy Could Launch Japanese and European Payloads to Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway
Northrop Grumman Exec Warns of Coming "Affordability" in the Space Launch System's Future
Impact of the Midterm Elections May be Felt at NASA
When Space Science Becomes a Political Liability


Original Submission

NASA Inspector General Urges Congress to Reconsider SLS Requirement for Europa Clipper Mission 10 comments

A mandate to fly NASA's mission to Europa on a delayed rocket could cost an extra $1 billion

NASA's inspector general is urging Congress to reconsider a mandate specifying which rocket the space agency's upcoming mission to Jupiter's moon Europa must fly on. Right now, NASA is legally obligated to fly the mission on the next big rocket that the space agency is developing, known as the Space Launch System or SLS. But that vehicle is years away from being ready, and the inspector general argues that changing the rocket to another one that's already in operation could save taxpayers up to $1 billion.

NASA's mission to Europa is currently slated for launch in 2023, and it'll aim to get the closest view yet of the Jovian moon. The project will send a robotic spacecraft to fly close by the icy moon multiple times to get a better understanding of what might be underneath the world's surface. A saltwater ocean is thought to lurk under Europa's crust, and scientists have long been wondering if any type of life might be living in there.

Also at Space News and Ars Technica.

Previously: Europa Clipper Mission Confirmed


Original Submission

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  • (Score: 2) by Runaway1956 on Wednesday August 21 2019, @04:32PM

    by Runaway1956 (2926) Subscriber Badge on Wednesday August 21 2019, @04:32PM (#883208) Journal

    What if there is zero evidence of life on Europa? We can put some there?

  • (Score: 2) by Megahard on Wednesday August 21 2019, @06:16PM (1 child)

    by Megahard (4782) on Wednesday August 21 2019, @06:16PM (#883261)

    It's not a landing mission.

  • (Score: -1, Troll) by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 21 2019, @07:19PM

    by Anonymous Coward on Wednesday August 21 2019, @07:19PM (#883277)

    Astronauts are all crybabies, losers for life who "step forth"

  • (Score: 2) by PartTimeZombie on Wednesday August 21 2019, @08:29PM (4 children)

    by PartTimeZombie (4827) on Wednesday August 21 2019, @08:29PM (#883299)

    They need to get on with this. I am not going to live forever and I would like some nice new desktop wallpapers from another planet please.

    Also, why are we not getting on with enabling nuclear fusion in Jupiter, which would warm these worlds up nicely, giving us a bit more real estate?

    What could go wrong?

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