APR 02, 2019 7:36 AM PDT

NASA Begins Testing Antenna for Upcoming Europa Clipper Mission

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

At least 69 confirmed moons are orbiting Jupiter at the time of this writing, which means Jupiter earns the ‘more moons than any other planet in the solar system’ award. But as you might come to expect, not all moons are created equally. In fact, some of Jupiter’s moons, such as that of Europa, are a bit more captivating to astronomers than others.

The prototype of the high-gain antenna for NASA's upcoming Europa Clipper mission is being tested.

Image Credit: NASA/David C. Bowman

Europa is a somewhat exciting place because astronomers have long thought that the moon harbors a briny sub-surface ocean. Indeed, just beneath that seemingly inconspicuous hard icy shell could be a global body of water, and some scientists even believe that it could play host to alien life forms.

Astronomers have all but proven that Europa actually sports a sub-surface ocean, but direct observations of water plumes erupting from Europa's surface by the Hubble Space Telescope have offered strong evidence for this theory, sparking interest in upcoming NASA missions like Europa Clipper, which will explore the distant moon and attempt to uncover its secrets.

Related: Reexamination of Galileo spacecraft data validates how plumes of water erupt from Europa's surface

NASA’s Europa Clipper mission isn’t expected to launch until the 2020s, but that hasn’t stopped the American space agency from getting its ducks in a row ahead of time. NASA recently commenced testing of a 10-foot-tall prototype of the high-gain antenna (HGA) that will hitch a ride on the Europa Clipper mission and communicate back and forth with scientists on Earth.

The HGA prototype for the Europa Clipper mission currently resides at the Experimental Test Range (ETR) at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia – one of only a handful of indoor electromagnetic test facilities in the United States where engineers can test this type of equipment and take measurements that will assist in the development of the final product.

"Several years ago we scoured the country to find a facility that was capable of making the difficult measurements that would be required on the HGA and found that the ETR clearly was it," elucidated Europa Clipper project manager Thomas Magner. "The measurements that will be performed in the ETR will demonstrate that the Europa Clipper mission can get a large volume of scientific data back to Earth and ultimately determine the habitability of Europa."

Related: Could humans survive on Enceladus or Titan?

NASA’s initial testing with Europa Clipper’s HGA prototype is mostly done and scheduled to conclude soon, but the space agency will return to ETR sometime next year to conduct further acceptance tests ahead of the mission’s yet-to-be-announced launch date.

"Our branch members are excited that these key test activities, achieved through specialized facility modifications and enhancements made to the ETR these past few years, are significantly contributing towards the ultimate success of the Europa Clipper," added Charmaine Franck, the head of Langley's Electromagnetics and Sensors Branch. "ETR has become a new NASA capability in space-based communications system research with its extended frequency range from X-band to Ka-band."

When Europa Clipper finally launches, it will take anywhere from three to seven years to arrive at its destination, depending on the type of vehicle that lofts it into space and the alignment of the planets at the time of its travels. NASA frequently utilizes planetary gravity as a ‘slingshot’ to help its missions to arrive at their destinations sooner, and we expect that Europa Clipper will be no different.

It will be interesting to see what this mission finds out about Europa when it finally gets where it’s going.

Source: NASA

About the Author
  • Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JAN 05, 2020
Space & Astronomy
JAN 05, 2020
Is Betelgeuse on the Verge of Going Supernova?
There’s been a lot of discussion happening as of late with respect to the Orion constellation’s red supergia ...
FEB 03, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 03, 2020
How NASA's MAVEN Spacecraft is Studying Mars' Ionosphere
If you ever listen to the radio and experience a phenomenon in which the broadcast sounds garbled or as if another radio ...
FEB 16, 2020
Space & Astronomy
FEB 16, 2020
Just How Powerful is a Piece of Space Debris?
One of the most commonly discussed topics in space science today is the space junk problem, in which space junk collides ...
APR 12, 2020
Space & Astronomy
APR 12, 2020
Three New Crew Members Arrive at the International Space Station
The International Space Station received three new crew members this past week following extensive pre-quarantine measur ...
APR 30, 2020
Earth & The Environment
APR 30, 2020
NASA's Laser Satellites Help Scientists Quantify Sea Ice Loss
Global climate change is melting Earth’s ice, and a recent study from NASA details how the polar ice sheets have c ...
MAY 12, 2020
Space & Astronomy
MAY 12, 2020
Here's What Would Happen if You Fired a Gun in Outer Space
Many of the world’s greatest science fiction films depict massive battles in outer space between starships and eve ...
Loading Comments...