NASA’s Europa Clipper probe has reached an important milestone with the completion of the Critical Design Review, according to the space agency. That means the probe that will probe Jupiter’s icy moon Europa will be ready for the assembly phase in 2022.
A detailed design review was performed during this Critical Design Review to ensure the probe is ready for full construction. This comprehensive assessment looked at cameras, antennas, flight systems, propulsion, power supply, avionics and the flight computer. According to NASA, plans to complete the development and integration of the individual components will stand, and the system as a whole will function as intended. By 2022, all the different hardware components should be brought together in the same place, after which the building of the complete system can begin, as well as testing of the entire spacecraft.
Scientists on the project can now complete production of the necessary hardware. Prototypes and engineering models have already been built to test how well the various instruments and their subsystems function. For example, the three-meter-long, disc-shaped antenna is already in the final phase of assembly and the large, expandable solar panels are currently being made. When the solar panels are fully unfolded in space, the length of the Europa Clipper is 30.5 meters. The solar panels cover an area of 90 square meters.
Ultimately, the probe should be ready for launch in 2024. Once at the moon, Europa Clipper will circle Europa more than 40 times through an elliptical orbit around Jupiter to investigate the moon’s ocean. It has added twice the volume of all Earth’s oceans. Using the various sensors, the probe must measure this internal ocean below the ice surface, but also map the surface composition and see if water plumes are emerging from the ice crust. The thickness of the ice crust and the gravitational field of the moon will also be measured. The interest in the ocean comes because it has the capacity to support life. The mission is not easy, partly due to the intense radiation from Jupiter.