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  • Writer's picturebidyut gogoi

One Engineer's Role in Building Europa Clipper's Dust Analyzer

The Europa Clipper's sensors will scan the surface composition of Jupiter's ice moon Europa in order to determine if it has the elements required for hosting life.

The spacecraft, however, will not simply observe Europa's chemistry from a distance. Additionally, it will gather and examine surface samples from Europa without ever touching down on the moon.

Micrometeoroids bombard the ice surface of Europa, scattering pieces of the moon's surface into space. 500 kilos or more of surface material are floating around the moon at any given moment as tiny ejecta.

The Europa Clipper spacecraft's Surface Dust Analyzer, or SUDA, functions like a whale shark with an open mouth, gathering and digesting ejecta dust to determine its chemical composition and place of origin from the surface as the spacecraft passes by Europa.

The electronics box, which houses the computer and power system, and the sensor head, which is positioned on the exterior of the spacecraft, are the two primary parts of the dust analyzer.

The sensor head, which is cylindrical and has a diameter of over 10 inches (24 cm), puts together a sizable bucket resembling a marching band drum. One of the electronics boards affixed on the exterior of that bucket must be assembled and tested by DeVito.

They explained, "A charge is created as a dust particle contacts with grids and plates inside the sensor head, and the charge is amplified by my board and delivered to the CPU."

SUDA makes use of the speed of Europa Clipper to determine what the dust surrounding Europa is comprised of. In comparison to the dust particles, the spaceship will be moving at a speed of several thousand miles (or kilometers) per hour.

Dust entering the SUDA sensor head collides with a titanium target plate that is coated with iridium, quickly vaporizing the dust into individual molecules. The molecules are also ionized by the hit, and SUDA's electrical fields then channel them into a detector to determine their individual masses. Amino acids, sulfites, abiotic and biotic compounds, among other things, may be distinguished with SUDA.

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