On August 14, 2023, NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft was equipped with a high-gain antenna that will provide science data and communication with the mission controller on Earth. This interplanetary project is based on the search for conditions suitable for life on the ice-covered satellite of Jupiter, named Europa, at 715 million kilometers from us. The launch of this long voyage is scheduled for October 2024.
Can you hear me now?— NASA Marshall (@NASA_Marshall) August 16, 2023
NASA's @EuropaClipper recently received a high-gain antenna that will enable the spacecraft – set to launch in Oct. 2024 – to communicate with mission controllers hundreds of millions of miles away.
Learn more about this milestone: https://t.co/EoU25ZPCCl pic.twitter.com/Wk3aRR9pHw
The high-gain antenna extends 3 meters along the body of the spacecraft and it will transmit most of the data to Earth over the course of 33-52 minutes. The strength of the signal, and the amount of data that will be sent at once, will exceed that of the Galileo spacecraft.
High gain Antenna
A high-gain antenna is a directional antenna designed to receive or transmit radio or microwave signals with greater efficiency and accuracy than conventional ones. The peculiarity of this device is an optimized design that concentrates signal energy in specific directions, improving communication capability.
The antennas’ radio signals aboard on Europa Clipper Spacecraft will be directed toward Earth, and they will be received and processed by NASA’s Deep Space Network on Earth.
The developments were managed by the engineer Matthew Bray, who has been working on this project since 2014. The final assembly location where the antenna and the vehicle will be mated is named Spacecraft Assembly Facility Bay at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. However, in previous years, the antenna has been tested twice in other facilities across the country, in order to check for vibration and thermal vacuum resistance and the ability to beam data precisely.
“The high-gain antenna is a critical piece in the buildup of Europa Clipper. It represents a very visible piece of hardware that provides the capability that the spacecraft needs to send the science data back from Europa”— Jordan Evans, Clipper project manager at JPL
More about the Mission
Specifically, the mission has 3 main objectives to complete, which are to determine the thickness of the moon’s ice layer, to investigate its composition and interaction with the ocean below it, and to characterize the moon’s geology. Accordingly, nine scientific instruments will be arranged on board the spacecraft, performing different tasks. Specifically:
- The study of Europa geology and surface;
- Infrared light thermal images will be captured in order to find the hottest areas close to the surface;
- Through the reflection of infrared light it will be possible to map ices, salts, and organics;
- Ultraviolet light will be used to determine the compositions of atmospheric gases and surface materials.
The addition made of the high gain antenna represents a fundamental step in the Probe assembly process, which will have to undergo a few more tests and steps before being ready for its long journey to Jupiter.