Jupiter's Moon Europa Is Target for Possible NASA Lander
by Mike Wall, SPACE.com Senior Writer
Date: 09 December 2011 Time: 03:22 PM ET
SAN FRANCISCO — NASA is considering dropping two robotic landers on the surface of Jupiter's moon Europa, a body that many scientists regard as the solar system's best bet for harboring life beyond Earth.
Researchers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, Calif., are developing a concept mission that could launch in 2020 and deliver the landers to Europa about six years later. The chief goal would be to investigate whether life could ever have existed on the huge moon, which likely hosts an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy shell.
This I think should be a priority, and should have been the mission flown rather than the relatively boring Juno probe. Europa is extremely interesting from the point of view that it probably, or even more than likely, has life due to its icy surface and liquid water ocean underneath. The only other places that have these possibilities (as we understand at present) are Enceladus and Titan - the latter having been visited by the truely amazing Huygen's lander by ESA.
So this gets me thinking, space probes are extraordinarily expensive as they tend to be one off constructions. However building on mass production techniques would it be possible (almost certainly economically better) to mass produce probes. Make them light-weight with a small RTG, standardised components: visible light cameras, IR cameras, magnetometer, various particle detectors etc.
Make two batches, one orbiter and one lander and take advantage of systems such as SpaceX which provide low cost launching facilities. There needs to be done work on getting the launchers to provide the capabilities to get the things out of Earth orbit.
Now if you built, say, ten or even twenty (NASA's Surveyor programme made seven landers of a standardised design) you could quite easily send two or more to whatever target, or maybe just one to the "easy" targets and two to the "harder" ones.
So my list:
- Europa - ice and water
- Enceladus - ice and water
- Uranus - only Voyager 2 has been there
- Neptune - again only Voyager 2 has been there
- Various asteroids: Pallas (Vesta and Ceres are being visited by Dawn at the moment)
- Near Earth Objects
- Then some other interesting places: Saturn's rings, Iapetus, the odd comet or two (think Giotto style)