NASA's SUV-Size Europa Clipper Spacecraft Begins to Take Shape

Illustration of NASA's Europa Clipper spacecraft 7 photos
Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Europa Clipper's high-gain antennaEuropa Clipper's propulsion moduleEuropa Clipper's propulsion tanksThe Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE) Science InstrumentEuropa Clipper's propulsion moduleThe ultraviolet spectrograph
NASA has started to assemble the Europa Clipper probe ahead of its 2024 launch. Once the final pieces are put together, the spacecraft will carry an array of scientific instruments to uncover the mysteries of Jupiter's icy moon Europa.
Scientists believe that beneath Europa's icy crust is a salty ocean with twice the amount of water that our oceans have combined. And as many of you perhaps know, if there's water, there might be signs of alien life too.

To investigate whether the moon has the ability to support life, NASA will launch the Europa Clipper to search for evidence of geological activity, look for subsurface lakes, and measure the depth of the ocean that lies beneath its frozen crust.

Currently, the mission is entering its final phase before its 2024 launch. NASA's team of researchers and engineers have started assembling the probe at the agency's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Southern California.

The spacecraft's main body is a 10-foot-tall (3-meter-tall) module that will house the electronics, communications, cabling, and propulsion system. The module is scheduled to arrive at NASA's JPL this spring, along with the spacecraft's 10-foot-wide (3-meter-wide) antenna.

Most of the flight components, including a suite of nine scientific instruments that will enable the probe to investigate the icy moon, are expected to be completed by the end of this year, according to the agency.

Once fully assembled, the Europa Clipper will be as big as an SUV and will have massive solar arrays, which will help it get power from the Sun to get to the moon.

The SUV-size spacecraft will then undergo a series of tests that will determine if every system functions accordingly and can endure the harsh environment of space. Then, in October 2024, the Europa Clipper mission is set to be launched from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on top of a SpaceX Falcon Heavy Rocket.

After it separates from the rocket, the probe will head to Jupiter. It will orbit the gas giant and perform multiple flybys over Europa, modifying its flight path for every flyby in order to scan different regions of the moon.

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About the author: Florina Spînu
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Florina taught herself how to drive in a Daewoo Tico (a rebadged Suzuki Alto kei car) but her first "real car" was a VW Golf. When she’s not writing about cars, drones or aircraft, Florina likes to read anything related to space exploration and take pictures in the middle of nature.
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