It’s one of the biggest mysteries left in our solar system, and now we might finally explore it. Just don’t tell those aliens from 2010: The Year We Make Contact.
NASA’s 2016 budget includes an approximately $255 million item spread over the next five years to send a satellite to Europa —which could potentially send back a ton of intel on Jupiter’s mysterious, red-streaked moon. NASA noted this will be the first time the budget has supported serious “formulation and development” for a Europa mission. The financial investment follows $100 million last year to investigate what shape a potential mission might take.
Scientists had previously eyed a potential lander that would dig into the moon’s thick, icy exterior in search of potential microbial life buried in oceans closer to the planet’s warmer core, but it sounds like that concept has been scrapped in favor of a more traditional satellite orbit approach. Instead, current plans call for a probe more akin to the Cassini spacecraft that was sent back in the 1990s to explore Saturn.
Dubbed the Europa Clipper (at least that’s the leading design concept), the craft would fly by Europa 45 times in a 3.5-year period. NASA hopes to pack the craft with a ton of cutting-edge tech, including a radar to penetrate and map the ice, an infrared spectrometer, a topographic camera for high-resolution imaging and an ion and neutral mass spectrometer to analyze the moon's trace atmosphere.
Sure, it’s not as thorough as going down there and actually digging in — but it’d still provide an absolute mountain of fresh data for scientists to study. Again, let’s just hope we don’t piss off those aliens from 2010. They seemed to mean business about leaving Europa alone.