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NASA Seeking Community Ideas for Future Robotic Mission to Europa

by Brandon Russell | May 11, 2014May 11, 2014 8:00 am PDT

jupiter-europa-moon

Jupiter’s famous moon, Europa, is a potential incubator for alien life with its subsurface ocean and active water plumes. That’s giving NASA enough of a reason to start planning for an eventual visit, and the agency wants your help. Have any bright ideas on a future robotic mission? Let yourself be heard by contacting NASA directly.

NASA on Tuesday sent out a Request for Information (RFI) to the science and engineering communities, seeking ideas for a future mission to Europa. The goal of said mission is to “address fundamental questions of the enigmatic moon and the search for life beyond Earth,” NASA said. Submissions would be for concepts that fall under the $1 billion mark; launch vehicle cost isn’t factored into that amount.

“Europa is one of the most interesting sites in our solar system in the search for life beyond Earth,” said John Grunsfield, associate administrator for the NASA Science Missions Directorate. “The drive to explore Europa has stimulated not only scientific interest but also the ingenuity of engineers and scientists with innovative concepts.”

While scientists are currently focused on uncovering the mysteries on Mars, Europa has long been a popular candidate for life outside of Earth. Last year, researchers observed water plumes erupting from the moon’s south pole, showing hard evidence that a possible ocean was deep down under Europa’s surface.

Here are the requirements for the mission:

  • Characterize the extent of the ocean and its relation to the deeper interior
  • Characterize the ice shell and any subsurface water, including their heterogeneity, and the nature of surface-ice-ocean exchange.
  • Determine global surface, compositions and chemistry, especially as related to habitability
  • Understand the formation of surface features, including sites of recent or current activity, identify and characterize candidate sites for future detailed exploration
  • Understand Europa’s space environment and interaction with the magnetosphere

NASA spacecraft have caught a glimpse of Europe up-close before, but they were merely fly-bys; NASA wants to land an actual spacecraft on the moon’s surface. “Any mission to Europa must take into account the harsh radiation environment that would require unique protection of the spacecraft and instruments,” NASA said. Meanwhile, the plan would also need to be sensitive to Europa’s own environment, ensuring we don’t just go there and wreck the place.

Have any ideas? Deadline to submit concepts is May 30.

NASA

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Brandon Russell

Brandon Russell enjoys writing about technology and entertainment. When he's not watching Back to the Future, you can find him on a hike or watching...


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