NASA’s expensive Europa Clipper spacecraft is almost ready

The launch for the most expensive robotic space mission in NASA history will begin a year from now this Tuesday. At a cost of $5,000 million, “Europa Clipper” will attempt to help answer a bold question commensurate with the sky-high cost of scientists: Are there potentially life-like places beneath the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa?

Europa Clipper and the Search for Potential Life on Jupiter

Europa is slightly smaller than Earth’s moon and is very interesting to scientists looking for life. This icy world has a vast global ocean of liquid water beneath an icy crust. The Clipper spacecraft will fly past Europa nearly 50 times, get as close as 25 kilometers (16 miles) to its icy surface and survey the moon with a sophisticated suite of nine instruments.

said Jordan Evans, who leads the team developing the Europa Clipper spacecraft at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California. Ars Technica The mission is on track to launch to Jupiter during a 21-day planetary launch window beginning on October 10, 2024.

Engineers planning complex interplanetary trajectories have determined precisely when Europa Clipper will take off. If it flies on the first day of the launch window, it will take off at 11:51 EDT, according to Evans. This can be adjusted slightly as navigators specify the task path.

“It’s a 13,000-pound (6,000-kilogram) spacecraft with 100-foot (30-meter) solar arrays that have sensitive radar instruments that have to work simultaneously,” Evans said. “So it’s a beast.”

Evans spoke with Ars Technica Almost exactly one year, exactly one minute, the Europa Clipper launch pad was scheduled to lift off from Kennedy Space Center on Tuesday. Evans is on site this week, familiar with SpaceX operations, as the company prepares to launch the Falcon Heavy rocket that will carry NASA’s “Psyche” mission to an asteroid.

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“Clipper is going really well,” Evans said, though he admitted the mission has been overcome with difficulties.

Obstacles before the launch of the Europa Clipper

Those responsible must crack down Personnel problems at JPL, which made the Europa Clipper parallel to at least four important missions. After that a political fight broke out What rocket will send it to the solar system?. After engineers discovered that the craft could be damaged by vibrations induced by the rocket’s solid-fuel boosters, NASA leaders ultimately rejected launching the Clipper into the Space Launch System.

In 2021, NASA selected SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy for the job. The decision will save an estimated $2 billion, and a new trajectory design will allow Europa Clipper to take a more direct route to Jupiter than originally thought, launching on a commercial rocket. That means Clipper will enter orbit around Jupiter in 2030.

The Epidemics complicated the task. Delivery dates for some of Clipper’s science instruments have been delayed due to technical issues. But Evans said Tuesday that technicians assembling the spacecraft at JPL have installed the final components needed to begin a final round of testing before it moves from the California lab to a launch pad in Florida next month.

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