NASA Moves Forward With Europa Clipper Mission


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NASA is moving ahead with one of its most ambitious upcoming missions. The Europa Clipper has cleared a major bureaucratic hurdle, allowing the agency to begin final design and construction of the spacecraft that will explore the icy moon of Jupiter. The mission will begin to take shape over the next few years before it launches on something. NASA originally intended to use the Space Launch System (SLS), but it may need to rethink that in light of recent delays. 

Europa has been a subject of much research ever since the Voyager probes snapped photos of the moon during their flybys in the late 1970s. The surface is covered with dark streaks called lineae, which may indicate a subsurface liquid ocean. Assuming there is liquid water under the icy crust, Europa could have several times more water than all the oceans of Earth. Tidal heating from Jupiter’s gravity could keep that ocean liquid and allow life to develop. 

NASA has the Juno probe in the Jovian system right now, but it’s not designed to study the moons. The Europa Clipper would be the first mission to focus on a moon other than the one orbiting Earth. While Europa Clipper won’t land on the surface, it will make more than 40 close flybys of the moon, probing it with a suite of nine instruments to analyze the planet’s magnetic field, temperature, and more. Europa occasionally ejects plumes of water vapor into space, and Europa Clipper could analyze the chemical composition of the water if it manages to fly through one.

EuropaFeature

All NASA missions have to go through a labyrinthian approval process that begins with the preliminary design. Only after passing independent review does a project get to final design and construction. That’s where Europa Clipper is now. NASA has given the go-ahead for the team to begin designing and building the spacecraft that will fly in space. There’s another review phase before the mission can continue to assembly, testing, and launch. That’s a few years off, though. 

NASA’s announcement of the mission’s new status does not make mention of how it will launch the spacecraft. The preliminary design called for Europa Clipper to fly on the SLS, which NASA had hoped to have done several years ago. With SLS development still inching along, it’s not certain the rocket will be ready in time for the 2023 or 2025 launch windows. There has been talk of using a smaller commercial rocket, but it would take longer to get the probe to Europa aboard one of those vehicles. 

Even if it takes a little longer to reach Europa, the aliens (if they exist) will still be waiting for us. We’re looking forward to more updates on the Europa Clipper going forward.

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Northrop Grumman to build its OmegA rocket at NASA’s VAB as first commercial tenant – gpgmail


NASA is celebrating alongside Northrop Grumman at Kennedy Space Center in Florida, as the latter becomes the first commercial partner to make use of the Vehicle Assembly Building on-site at the base. The VAB, as its more commonly known, is a cavernous building that’s used to build and test rockets ahead of rolling them out to nearby launch pads, which was originally constructed by NASA to support the Apollo program.

Northrop Grumman will be using the VAB to build and prep its OmegA launch vehicle, a new rocket the company is building to transport intermediate and heavy payloads to orbit. It’s a fully expendable rocket, which Northrop is positioning as a lower-risk alternative to reusable models flown by competitors (cough SpaceX cough) and it’s also build as an ‘affordable’ option for those seeking launch services. OmegA is designed to help Northrop Grumman compete for future national security launch contracts, as well as support commercial customer missions.

NASA will also continue to use the VAB for the assembly of its own Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which will be supporting missions in the Artemis program and transporting the Lockheed Martin-built Orion crew craft to space, and eventually to the Moon.

Kennedy also already plays host to rocket assembly and launch facilities for both SpaceX and Blue Origin, making it a hot spot for public-private space business activity.


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