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NASA Facts Europa Orbiter

NASA Facts Europa Orbiter

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Published by Bob Andrepont

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Feb 13, 2011
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Europa Orbiter is a mission designed to studyJupiter’s fourth largest moon, Europa, which hasattracted immense interest because of indicationsfrom the Galileo mission that a liquid ocean may lieunderneath its icy crust. It is hypothesized that if theocean is indeed liq-uid, its volume willexceed the com-bined volume of allEarth’s ocens. If anocean exists onEuropa, some sci-entists speculatethat conditionsthought to favor theformation of life,however primitive,may have existed atsome point inEuropa’s history.Europa Orbiterwould seek to con-firm the existenceof a subsurfaceocean, study itscharacteristics, andsearch for promis-ing candidate sitesfor future landermissions.The Europa Orbiter spacecraft would require newtechnologies, especially the so-called X2000 modular,radiation-hardened spacecraft electronics that can beconfigured for various missions. Europa Orbiter isplanned for launch in 2008, to arrive at Jupiter’s sys-tem in 2010 and enter orbit around Europa in 2011.
Science Instruments
Specific Europa Orbiter science investigationswill be selected by NASAfrom competitive proposalssolicited during1999. The primaryscientific objectivesof the mission areto:
Determinethe presence orabsence of a subsur-face ocean;
Characterizethe three-dimen-sional distributionof any subsurfaceliquid water and itsoverlying ice layers;
Understandthe formation of surface features,including sites of recent or currentactivity, and identi-fy candidate landingsites for future lander missions.Among experiments that have been suggestedto address these objectives are:
Measurements of Europa’s tides: If Europa’s icy crust conceals a global subsurface ocean,Jupiter’s huge gravity will raise large tides up to
Europa Orbiter
National Aeronautics andSpace Administration
Jet Propulsion Laboratory
California Institute of TechnologyPasadena, CA91109
about 30 meters (about 100 feet), which will rise andfall every Europa day (about 3.5 Earth days). Precisemeasurements of the moon’s gravity field and shape,using a laser altimeter and precise tracking of theorbiter from Earth, could detect these tides.
Mapping the surface: High-resolutionimaging of the surface from orbit can map most of Europa’s surface, showing features smaller than afootball field. This experiment would search for theyoungest areas on the surface, define the satellite’sgeologic history and start looking for possible landingsites for future missions. Even higher resolution pic-tures of small areas could be made.
Ice-penetrating radar: Radar waves canpenetrate through ice and in fact are used in Earth’sArctic and Antarctic regions to study the polar icesheets. An orbiting radar sounder may be able to“see” through the ice in places and determine thethickness of the ice layers.
Other suggestions that may be exploredinclude mapping the composition of salts on Europa’ssurface and studying its electromagnetic properties.Electrical currents could be set up in a salty Europaocean due to Jupiter’s changing magnetic field.Europa Orbiter is seen as a precursor mission forfuture “hydrobot” missions, which could use remote-controlled submarines to melt through the ice andexplore Europa’s ocean, should one be found. Otherconcepts include making on-site measurements of icenear the surface that shows signs of having beenrecently deposited from liquid that rose to the surface.Europa Orbiter would survey Europa for potentiallanding sites, where the ice appears thin or wherethere are signs of current or recent activity. Any eval-uation of the detailed chemistry or potential for life inEuropa’s ocean, if it has one, will have to await thearrival of a lander on Europa’s surface.
Mission Overview
The current plans are for the Europa Orbiter tolaunch on a Boeing Delta IVrocket, currently underdevelopment under a U.S. Air Force contract. Planscall for the spacecraft to follow a direct trajectory toJupiter.The spacecraft would arrive at Jupiter’s system insummer 2010, firing its engine to place the spacecraftin orbit around Jupiter. This initial orbit would lastapproximately 200 days. Just before it enters orbitaround Jupiter, Europa Orbiter would pass byJupiter’s moon Ganymede, the gravity of whichwould help slow the spacecraft down.The spacecraft would then tour Jupiter’s system,executing about a dozen gravity-assist flybys of threemoons of Jupiter — Ganymede, Europa and Callisto.The tour is designed to shrink the spacecraft’s orbitaround Jupiter to approximate that of Europa aroundJupiter, reducing the amount of rocket propellantrequired to finally enter orbit around Europa itself.This tour trajectory would begin in a fashion similarto that of the Galileo spacecraft, which has orbitedJupiter and its moons since December 1995, gatheringa wealth of science data.The spacecraft’s orbit would gradually shrink,leading to its final destination by mixing close flybysof Europa with specially timed thruster firings to helpreduce the final approach velocity to the moon. Inlate 2011, Europa Orbiter would arrive in orbit aroundthe icy moon and begin its 30-day primary mission.It is expected that this mission would consist of more than 300 orbits of Europa, with the objective of mapping the icy moon’s entire surface. The orbiterwould measure Europa’s gravity field to look for thesignature of tides induced by Jupiter.At the end of the mission, the spacecraft’s orbitwould be boosted high enough that the intense radia-tion around Jupiter and Europa would be expected tosterilize any accidentally “hitchhiking” terrestrialorganisms even in the most heavily shielded parts of the spacecraft. The final orbit would be stable overdecades, long after the spacecraft is expected to ceasefunctioning because of radiation-induced degradationof electronics and other critical equipment.
Spacecraft Design
Design teams have studied various options for theEuropa Orbiter craft and settled on a conceptualdesign, pending NASAselection of science investiga-tions and completion of an environmental impactstatement. The spacecraft and its instruments must bedesigned to withstand severe radiation in Jupiter’ssystem, the most intense planetary radiation environ-ment in the solar system. Spacecraft designers aredeveloping creative configurations for self-shielding2
of the spacecraft, high durability of electronics, andself-correcting software for radiation-induced memo-ry errors.While the Galileo spacecraft was designed towithstand severe radiation, Europa Orbiter must bedesigned to withstand nearly 10 times the radiationdose endured by Galileo because it would spend along time at Europa’s distance from Jupiter, withinthe inner Jovian radiation belts. It would experiencemost of this radiation dose during the final threemonths before arrival and during its orbital missionaround Europa. Galileo, on the other hand, was builtwith heavier shielding and spent most of its time faroutside the inner Jovian system, affording only occa-sional, brief flybys of Europa and the other majorsatellites.Several enabling technologies, including theX2000 electronics, are currently under developmentas part of the Europa Orbiter project in the SpaceScience Flight Projects Directorate of NASA’s JetPropulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. The firstX2000 engineering models and X2000 radiation-hardapplication-specific integrated circuits (ASICs) havebeen received from industry contractors for testing atJPL. Software is being adopted from the prior DeepSpace 1, Cassini and other missions to run on thefastest computers ever planned for a planetary mis-sion. Flight computers are being provided by BAESystems of Manassas, Va., using a processor based onthe commercial PowerPC architecture. Electronics toprovide conditioned power and to switch equipmenton and off is under development at Lockheed MartinCommercial Space Systems in Newton, Pa.Other radiation-hard electronics are being pro-duced at JPL, with manufacturing specifically adaptedto the high-radiation mission using ASIC productionlines at Honeywell Electronics Center in Plymouth,Minn. Engineering data collection assemblies arebeing developed at the Johns Hopkins University’sApplied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md. Anon-volatile memory assembly is being developed atSEAKR Engineering, Inc. in Englewood, Colo.Several other missions are now planning to utilize theX2000 equipment being developed for Europa,including JPL’s Deep Impact comet mission, SpaceTechnology 3, the Space Interferometer Mission andsome future Mars missions.Power sources for the spacecraft would have toprovide more than 400 watts of electrical power forelectronics, instruments, heaters, and radio transmit-ters to send data back to Earth. The current baselineplan calls for the spacecraft to utilize radioisotopethermoelectric generators (RTG) of the type flown onthe Galileo, Ulysses and Cassini missions. Theywould be provided by the Department of Energy, withconverters manufactured by Lockheed Martin inValley Forge, Pa.As another critical part of spacecraft design, engi-neers must reduce the mass of the onboard propulsionsubsystem as much as possible. Europa Orbiterwould use hydrazine as fuel with nitrogen tetroxide asthe oxidizer. Lockheed Martin Astronautics, Denver,Colo., is under contract for the propulsion subsystem,while advanced regulator and thruster components arebeing developed by Moog Inc., in East Aurora, N.Y.,Primex Aerospace in Redmond, Wash., and others.During the course of the mission, the orbiter’s rocketengines would change its speed by about 2,500meters per second (5,400 miles per hour).The spacecraft would be able to point its instru-ments to within 5 milliradians (about 1/4 degree), orhalf the apparent diameter of the full Moon. Theorbiter’s precise orientation in space would be sensedby star cameras being designed under contract withBall Aerospace and Technologies Corporation inBoulder, Colo. The rates at which the spacecraftturns, which are critical during maneuvers and someobservations, would be determined using an inertialmeasurement unit, to be developed under a contractwith Northrop Grumman’s Guidance & ControlSystems Division in Goleta, Calif.Europa Orbiter’s telecommunications subsystemwould operate on an X-band radio frequency, utilizinga radiation-hardened Small Deep Space Transponderof the type first flown on JPL’s Deep Space 1 mis-sion, and manufactured at Motorola CommunicationsSystems Division in Scottsdale, Ariz. Science andengineering data would be returned from Europa toEarth over NASA’s Deep Space Network at a rate of up to 40,000 bits per second while in Europa orbit.Data is to be sent to Earth each day during “down-link” sessions, using a transmitter emitting a mere 8watts of power (a cell phone typically transmits about0.01 to 3 watts, but Jupiter is more than 100 million3

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