NASA is going to Europa

NASA announced today that the agency is moving ahead with a planned mission to Jupiter's moon Europa. In this next phase, engineers will complete the final design, construction, and testing of the Europa Clipper spacecraft for a launch as soon as 2023. Why the icy moon Europa? From NASA:

NASA's Europa Clipper mission will conduct detailed reconnaissance of Jupiter's moon Europa to see whether the icy moon could harbor conditions suitable for life. The mission will carry a highly capable, radiation-tolerant spacecraft that will perform repeated close flybys of the icy moon from a long, looping orbit around Jupiter.

The payload of selected science instruments includes cameras and spectrometers to produce high-resolution images of Europa's surface and determine its composition. An ice penetrating radar will determine the thickness of the moon's icy shell and search for subsurface lakes similar to those beneath Antarctica. The mission also will carry a magnetometer to measure strength and direction of the moon's magnetic field, which will allow scientists to determine the depth and salinity of its ocean.

"This is a giant step in our search for oases that could support life in our own celestial backyard," says Europa program scientist Curt Niebur.

That's all well and good, assuming we attempt no landing there.

image: NASA/JPL-Caltech