A mission to study Europa in detail has cleared its first major review, and will soon be in planning stages. If all goes well, we’ll be headed to the Jovian moon in the 2020s, where we’ll gain new insights into active planetary bodies.
Europa is home to a vast liquid ocean, and for that reason, it’s long been though of as a good place to look for life beyond planet Earth.
The mission plan calls for a spacecraft to be launched to Jupiter in the 2020s, arriving in the distant planet’s orbit after a journey of several years. The spacecraft would orbit the giant planet about every two weeks, providing many opportunities for close flybys of Europa. The mission plan includes 45 flybys, during which the spacecraft would image the moon’s icy surface at high resolution and investigate its composition and the structure of its interior and icy shell.
In the accompanying video, mission planners explain that actually orbiting Europa will be complicated: any mission would be fried from prolonged exposure to Jupiter’s radiation field. Instead of orbiting the moon directly, the mission will orbit Europa’s parent planet, and will conduct constant flybys. Planners hope to send the probe through some of the plumes of water that Europa seems to be emitting, to get a direct look at what’s under its icy surface.