June 23, 2016

"Thanks to an aggressive push in Congress (you read that right: Congress), a pair of missions to the mysterious moon may be launching as early as 2022 and 2024."

Time: A portion of the Congressional spending provisions signed into law in December 2015 includes $260 million for a Europa orbiter set to launch “no later than 2022” and a lander “no later than 2024”. by Jeffrey Kluger

'And the relevant auxiliary verb included in the statute is shall, as in NASA shall fly the specified missions by the specified dates. “Today the Europa orbiter and lander is the only mission it is illegal for NASA not to fly,” Culberson says, with no small amount of parliamentary pride.

'Of course, writing airtight legislation is easier than designing and building the called-for hardware, and NASA has a way to go before its Europa spacecraft are actually ready to fly. The orbiter, which would be the easier of the two ships, would circle Europa for two years looking for the best spots for a lander to touch down—preferably near a fracture in the ice which is emitting frosty geysers from the oceans. That would make it easy to sample the water as it fell back to the surface in a sort of Europan snow.

'The ultimate goal, though, would be to peer directly into the calmer waters of the ocean and perhaps even go swimming. The lander will thus be equipped with a drill that includes a heater, to soften the ice, and a pair of counter-rotating blades—essentially two stacked blades, one of which rotates clockwise, the other counterclockwise.

'“That neutralizes the centrifugal force and the gyroscopic effects,” says Culberson. “It also produces a huge rooster tail of sample material.” Once a hole was drilled, a semi-autonomous submersible could dive in and begin investigating, sending its data back to the lander on the surface, which would relay it to the orbiter, which would in turn send it back to Earth.'

No comments: