Engineers have delivered a key component of the spacecraft for the agency’s mission to investigate Jupiter’s ice moon. The Europa Clipper spacecraft’s main body has been transported to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. Engineers and technicians will complete building the craft by hand over the following two years before testing it to ensure it can endure the voyage to Jupiter’s ice moon Europa.
The mission’s workhorse is the spacecraft body. It’s an aluminium cylinder containing electronics, radios, thermal loop tubing, cabling, and the propulsion system that stands 10 feet (3 metres) tall and 5 feet (1.5 metres) wide. Europa Clipper will be the size of an SUV while its solar arrays and other deployable equipment are packed for launch; when extended, the solar arrays will make the vessel the size of a basketball court. It is the most massive NASA’s spacecraft ever built for a planetary mission.
Europa Clipper, which is scheduled to launch in October 2024, will make roughly 50 flybys of Europa, which scientists believe has an interior ocean containing twice as much water as Earth’s seas combined. And there’s a chance that the water is now hospitable to life. The spacecraft’s nine research instruments will collect data about Europa’s atmosphere, surface, and interior, which scientists will use to determine the depth and salinity of the ocean, the thickness of the ice crust, and any possible plumes venting subsurface water into space.