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We’re going to the moon…of Jupiter, Europa!

Europa, moon of Jupiter

Europa as seen by the NASA Galileo spacecraft on September 7, 1996.

New legislation from Congress has approved NASA’s 2016 fiscal year budget of $19.2 billion with a special $175 million designated as a “Jupiter Europa clipper mission” with a target launch date of 2022-2023.

The budget proposal stipulates that, “This mission shall include an orbiter with a lander that will include competitively selected instruments and that funds shall be used to finalize the mission design concept.” In other words, it’s against the law to fly the mission to Europa without a lander.

The initial goal of sending an orbiter was appropriated in the original proposal but Texas Congressman John Culberson pushed for a lander after making regular trips to NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California–the team who orchestrated the Curiosity lander mission to Mars. The lander concept however will be difficult to coordinate due to the radiation emanating from Jupiter. The original mission objectives were to stay on the outside of Jupiter’s radiation zone and do a series of fly-bys over the course of three to four years. (For more details on how the lander was incorporated into this mission, click here.)

Europa was originally selected as a candidate to Due to the surface composition of Europa (primarily water-ice with some silicate rock), the clipper mission will orbit the moon’s surface several times to determine the best landing spot.

For more information on the Europa Clipper project, check out this article from Ars Technica.

For more on details about the Europa mission, check out the mission site from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.