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Monday, December 24, 2012

Preparing a mission to Jupiter's moon

From this year on Mars rover new American works Curiosity, in the future to join him orbiter Maven, in 2016 - the lander Insight  and in addition to that on the 2020 NASA Mars rover is scheduled for launch next. But this perspective is not limited. Among other objectives the fourth largest moon of Jupiter Europe .

One of the options for the future of research in Europe - launch a probe that will make several flights in the vicinity of the satellite and consider it an ice covered with a dense network of deep cracks the shell, under which must dabble whole ocean. These data will provide the basis for a future landing descent module.

Plan such a mission has been very positively received by the leadership of NASA after the presentation, held in early December. Although officially work has not yet started, according to preliminary estimates, Mission Europa Clipper could take place about 2021

Europe - one of the most interesting objects in the solar system: this 3100-km long companion, with its "internal ocean" is considered one of the most likely candidates for the cradle of extraterrestrial life.

Hidden from the hostile space multikilometer with ice, the ocean in some parts of Europe is in direct contact with the upper layers of the mantle, which creates the possibility for the occurrence of the necessary geochemistry processes. Brings energy, above all, the friction of the inner layers satellite, which is caused by the tidal forces of the gravitational field near the giant Jupiter. In short, we have everything you need for a normal life.

Not surprisingly, even among the most intriguing studies of deep sky Europe has a special appeal. Several years ago, NASA announced plans mission JEO, which is to study Jupiter and its moon, and named it the second priority after the task of delivery to Earth samples of Martian soil.

On the other hand, the cost of JEO, estimated at an impressive $ 4.7 billion, from the beginning seemed unrealistic. In this regard, scholars have been invited to finalize and "shrink" the project, focusing on the most important and interesting problems and fit into the budget a maximum of 2 billion dollars.

Under these restrictions of the lander can be forgotten, and we have considered only two options: a probe permanently orbiting Europe, or probe, which, being in the Jupiter system, will make several flights near it.

The problem is that in the vicinity of Europe is extremely high level of radiation, so that the unit is continuously working here should be the most reliable way is shielded. Even so, the developers expected a maximum of 109 days of work. And from a scientific point of view, "flight path" mission looks interesting: it is able to place on board the additional tools and instruments.

It is planned that the probe will be able to hold ice radar studies of the ocean, explore the topography and the magnetic field of the satellite spectrum of the surface and atmosphere, etc. To provide all the tools and power to meet the budget, Europa Clipper have to rely on an array of solar panels instead of much more expensive systems based on radioisotope generator.

At such a distance from the sun solar panels do not look the best solution, but they are quite successfully used on already sent U.S. probe to Jupiter Juno . For a new mission plan to use studies for Juno, taking into account, of course, especially its flight - in particular, high-dose radiation and regular solar eclipse that will accompany the flight Europa Clipper.

According to the plan after reaching orbit Jupiter device worked here for at least 2 years and 3 months, spending tens flown near Europe. Minimum height above the surface of the icy satellites of one of the spans will be only 25 km! These maneuvers will reliably determine the thickness of the ice crust, study the composition hidden beneath the ocean and fathom it in depth (and finally confirm its existence.)

Americans hope that the launch of the mission will be able to spend between 2020 and 2022 flight to the target will take about another six years.

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