Monday, January 2, 2012

Proposal probe for the exploration of Europa

Finally they realized the importance to NASA that Europe has the possibility of the existence of extraterrestrial life in the Solar System, and is seriously considering sending two probes to explore the famous moon of Jupiter.

Researchers at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are developing a paper on the mission, according to very optimistic estimates, could be launched by 2020, and touch the ice surface in Europe six years later.

"I think Europe is the best place to look for living things, "says Kevin Hand at JPL. Hand laid the groundwork for the mission to Europe on 8 December during a conference held at the annual meeting of the American Geophysical Union. "Europe provides us the opportunity to search for life forms that currently exists in the ocean, and that has existed for much of the history of the Solar System."

The project will consist of two identical probes weighing about 320 kg each, loaded with 36 kg of scientific instruments that will include spectrometers, cameras and several seismometers to study in detail the landing site.

To make a comparison with other lander-rover of the past, Spirit and Opportunity carry 5 kg of scientific equipment, and the recent Mars rover Curiosity will carry about 65 kg of total weight of 900.

The participation of two different probes will be used to limit the damage if possible and partial failure of the mission. "It 'a way to reduce the risk during the landing on the surface unknown in Europe," said Hand.

Landing on Europe, in fact, is not child's play: it seems that the ice surface is continuous (and perhaps sudden) change, and solar radiation or Jupiter certainly does not simplify the work that will carry on-board instrumentation.

The life of the probes will be very short: good or bad seven days, during which the doses of radiation Jupiter will gradually stop lìattrezzatura scientific. The lander will have no anti-radiation shield, which would only increase the weight of the launch of two probes already given up for lost time since the design of the mission.

Once touched the surface of the moon, each robot will operate the scientific instruments in order to detect the presence of any organic compounds, including those regarded as the main building blocks of life as we know it.

The seismometers and cameras, however, will help provide a clearer picture of the geophysical characteristics of Europa, a moon of particular interest not only for the possibility of alien life.

Biological Survey of Europe will not focus on direct detection of hypothetical life forms, but will study for the degree of habitable attempt to identify the most promising to hold, or have done in the past, extraterrestrial life forms based on a Biology similar to ours.

Currently, the two landers are only a sense of mission, and nothing assures us that by 2020 we will see them move away from the Earth on their way to Europe. But research has shown that the Hand already have all the technology needed for a mission so ambitious, and that by 2026, if the space adventure should be oriented towards this goal, we can actually have two probes on the icy surface of Europa.

The cost of a mission as complex are not quantifiable for now. If it should be enclosed within the project called "Flagship" (which saw the construction of the Mars rover Curiosity), NASA engineers may have provided a figure between 800 million and $ 2 billion.

Last March, a report by the National Research Council suggested that Europe is a goal of highest priority, second only to the exploration of Mars . "There are very strong reasons to believe that Europe is in possession of an ocean, which probably lies beneath a relatively thin layer of ice," said Steven Squyres at the time, chairman of the committee that wrote the report published in early 2011.

From this conference we created a parallel mission to that proposed by Hand, "the Jupiter Europa Orbiter," a satellite that could travel along the low orbit of Europe by 2030 if they were the $ 4.7 billion needed to construct it, very hard to find funds in the global situation we are experiencing.

A mission to Europa is in fact already been canceled due to budget: this is the Jimo (Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter), a mission that would explore the Galilean satellites watching closely Europa, Ganymede and Callisto. It was a mission not only innovative for the purpose of recording in detail the interaction between these three moons and Jupiter, but also a field test of the ion engines and the latest generation of highly advanced scientific instruments.

If the planet Mars appears to be a very promising from the biological point of view, Europe could be the "Pandora" in our solar system. Encourage the exploration of the moon so special will only expand and improve our ability to find, eventually, a form of non-terrestrial life within the confines of our "neighborhood space".

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