On January 30, 2024, NASA JPL completed the installation of the scientific instruments on Europa Clipper, being on track for its launch in October 2024. The suite of instruments will support the mission’s scientific targets, collecting data in sync during each flyby around the Jovian icy moon.
“The instruments work together hand in hand to answer our most pressing questions about Europa.”— Robert Pappalardo, Europa Clipper project scientist
9 months to launch, and @EuropaClipper has all its instruments!— NASA JPL (@NASAJPL) January 30, 2024
During the spacecraft's 49 flybys of Europa, the instruments will gather measurements and images that will help us determine if Jupiter's icy moon has conditions suitable for life. https://t.co/Rh1GVYOKDu pic.twitter.com/2dt5E7wfAf
A mission to unveil Europa’s secrets
Europa Clipper’s science mission aims to verify if Jupiter’s moon may have the necessary conditions for life, especially in its ocean beneath the external icy crust. In detail, the spacecraft will measure the thickness of the external crust and its interactions with the liquid water below, investigating the composition and characterizing the geology.
“We will learn what makes Europa tick, from its core and rocky interior to its ocean and ice shell to its very thin atmosphere and the surrounding space environment.”— Robert Pappalardo, Europa Clipper project scientist
Scientific Instruments and Where to Find Them
The probe has been equipped with nine scientific instruments to achieve the mission’s scientific goals:
- The Europa Imaging System (EIS), made of a wide-angle camera (WAC) and a narrow-angle camera (NAC), will capture high-resolution images of Europa’s surface features in the visible light and a small range of near-infrared and ultraviolet wavelengths;
- Europa Thermal Emission Imaging System (E-THEMIS) will map Europa’s temperatures to discover clues about cryovolcanoes and areas where the internal ocean might be near the surface;
- Europa Clipper’s Ultraviolet Spectrograph (Europa-UVS) will pick up ultraviolet light and separate its wavelengths with an optical grating;
- Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE) will measure the various wavelengths of light to map Europa’s surface composition in detail;
- Europa Clipper Magnetometer (ECM) will measure the strength and orientation of the magnetic field around the moon to understand the ocean’s saltwater conductivity, salinity, and depth;
- Plasma Instrument for Magnetic Sounding (PIMS) will study the density, temperature, and flow of the surrounding plasma;
- Radar for Europa Assessment and Sounding Ocean to Near-surface (REASON) will study the ice’s internal structure, topography, composition, and roughness of Europa’s surface;
- MAss Spectrometer for Planetary EXploration/Europa (MASPEX) will collect gasses ejected from the moon and characterize their composition;
- SUrface Dust Analyzer (SUDA) will scoop up the ejecta floating above the surface to determine its chemistry, including potential organic molecules;
- Gravity/Radio Science, the radio communication will provide clues about Europa’s gravity field thanks to analyzing the Doppler shift of the radio signal received on Earth during the moon’s flybys.
A strict roadmap to launch in October 2024
The spacecraft entered the environmental testing phase to demonstrate its availability to survive the harsh space environment. It will then be moved back to JPL’s assembly facility to be checked out and prepared for transportation to the launch site at Kennedy Space Center (KSC).
Once at the KSC, Europa Clipper will be integrated with its launcher, a SpaceX Falcon Heavy. The launch period opens on October 10, 2024, and, depending on the launch day, there will be a Mars flyby in February 2025 and an Earth flyby in December 2026. The arrival at Jupiter’s system is scheduled for April 2030, while the first flyby of Europa is for Spring 2031.