NASA’s Jupiter moon mission named ‘Europa Clipper’
NASA announced on Thursday, March 9, that the space agency’s upcoming mission to study the habitability of Jupiter’s frozen moon Europa will be named the Europa Clipper. The name harkens back to the wooden clipper ships that sailed Earth’s oceans in the 19th century. During the conceptual phase of the mission’s development, it was sometimes informally called Europa Clipper, but now NASA has made the name official.
Once Europa Clipper arrives at the Jupiter system, it will fly by Europa as frequently as once every two weeks, providing several opportunities to observe the moon close up. The main part of the mission will include 40 to 45 flybys, during which Europa Clipper will image the moon’s icy surface and study the composition and structure of its interior and frozen shell.
Europa has long been of interest to scientists because it has a salty ocean beneath its icy surface. The primary purpose of the Europa Clipper mission is to determine if Europa possesses all three ingredients necessary for life: liquid water, chemical ingredients, and an energy source.
“During each orbit, the spacecraft spends only a short time within the radiation environment near Europa. It speeds past, gathers a huge amount of science data, then sails on out of there,” said Robert Pappalardo, Europa Clipper project scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
Last month, the Europa Clipper mission completed its Key Decision Point-B review and started its design phase. The mission is scheduled to launch sometime in the 2020s and reach Jupiter after a journey of several years.
Jim Sharkey is a lab assistant, writer and general science enthusiast who grew up in Enid, Oklahoma, the hometown of Skylab and Shuttle astronaut Owen K. Garriott. As a young Star Trek fan he participated in the letter-writing campaign which resulted in the space shuttle prototype being named Enterprise. While his academic studies have ranged from psychology and archaeology to biology, he has never lost his passion for space exploration. Jim began blogging about science, science fiction and futurism in 2004. Jim resides in the San Francisco Bay area and has attended NASA Socials for the Mars Science Laboratory Curiosity rover landing and the NASA LADEE lunar orbiter launch.