NASA has been busy readying a mission to Europa, Jupiter’s third largest moon. Evidence dating back at least to the Voyager 1 and 2 flybys indicated the presence of an internal ocean, which could make Europa one of the best places to look for life outside of Earth.
That mission now has an official name: Europa Clipper. That may sound familiar because it’s what many people have been calling it that all along, but as Emily Lakdawalla at the Planetary Society points out, it’s actually the name of a different mission concept.
Name “Clipper” has indeed been around for a long time, but it originally described a different mission & was never official NASA parlance.
— Emily Lakdawalla (@elakdawalla) March 7, 2017
Technically, this mission has been called the Europa Multiple Flyby Mission, which is a bit more of a mouthful. The collaboration between NASA, the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at Caltech, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab (which was responsible for the recent New Horizons mission) will see a craft placed into orbit around Jupiter placed in such a way as to have dozens of encounters with Europa. It also gives plenty of time to transmit data back between encounters. However, Jupiter’s radiation is harsh and a Europa orbiter may not survive a direct orbit around it.
The craft is tentatively set for a 2022 launch. It was recently moved into Phase B production, where design specifications will be hammered out by the team. There’s a possibility NASA will launch it aboard the Space Launch System, a heavy lift rocket that will rival the power of the Saturn V and which could get the Clipper to Jupiter within two years.