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  • Writer's pictureayush devak

This spacecraft will explore a moon with more water than Earth. It's near Jupiter....


In search of life in our own solar system, Jupiter’s icy moon Europa is one of the biggest candidates. One of the 53 moons orbiting Jupiter, Europa, is potentially full of watery oceans under the surface and a mission is taking shape to explore this alien world.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has now received the main body of the Europa Clipper spacecraft and over the next two years, engineers will finish assembling the craft by hand before testing it to make sure it can withstand the harsh journey in space. Nearly 10 feet tall and five feet wide the spacecraft's main body is an aluminum cylinder integrated with electronics, radios, thermal loop tubing, cabling, and the propulsion system.

The spacecraft will be powered by solar panels that are stowed for launch. Once fully assembled, the spacecraft will be as large as an SUV, and with the extended solar panels, it will be the size of a basketball court. This is to date the largest spacecraft built by the American space agency for an interplanetary mission.

DESIGNING THE LARGEST SPACECRAFT EVER BUILT

The body of the spacecraft, which arrived at JPL, has been designed and developed by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). “The flight system designed, built, and tested by APL using a team of hundreds of engineers and technicians was the physically largest system ever built by APL," Tom Magner, the mission’s assistant project manager said.

“It’s an exciting time for the whole project team and a huge milestone. This delivery brings us one step closer to launch and the Europa Clipper science investigation,” Jordan Evans, the mission’s project manager at JPL said in a statement. The spacecraft will launch in October 2024.

Inside the main body of the spacecraft are two tanks one to hold fuel, one for oxidizer and the tubing that will carry their contents to an array of 24 engines, where they will combine to create a controlled chemical reaction that produces thrust.

WHAT WILL EUROPA CLIPPER DO?

The spacecraft will conduct a nearly 2.9-billion-kilometer to reach Jupiter's icy Moon over a period of six years. It will enter into orbit in 2031 and conduct nearly 50 flybys of Europa, which scientists are confident harbors an internal ocean containing twice as much water as Earth’s oceans combined.

Nasa has said that the spacecraft will have nine instruments that will gather data on Europa’s atmosphere, surface, and interior information that scientists will use to gauge the depth and salinity of the ocean, the thickness of the ice crust, and potential plumes that may be venting subsurface water into space.

The spacecraft is not being sent to find life itself, but will instead try to answer specific questions about Europa’s ocean, ice shell, composition, and geology. The expedition’s objective is to explore Europa to investigate its habitability.


Credit: India Today

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