The construction costs of the Europa Clipper probe are rising. Some instruments may not fly

Space exploration is not the cheapest pastime. Scientists preparing the latest NASA mission to Europe, one of the four largest moons of Jupiter, have learned this recently. Changes are waiting for the Europa Clipper probe.

On Friday, NASA held a briefing during which it was announced that the periodic mission review was completed. As part of it, the decision was made to continue / end the mission of three instruments to be installed on board the probe - a camera and two spectrometers. All three required review due to significant budget overruns in the design phase.

Curt Niebur, a Europa Clipper scientist, admitted that although his team had already had a limited budget for some time, in most cases the original features of the instruments were preserved. However, it was clear in autumn that there are three instruments in the plans that will significantly exceed their budget.

There was even a threat of removing these instruments completely from the board of the future probe. Now, however, the decision was made to keep them all on board. At least for now.

MASPEX, however, will study geysers

Still, it will be necessary to make changes to several instruments, especially the MASPEX spectrometer. This instrument was designed to study the chemical composition not only of the very rare atmosphere of Europe, but also of all geysers that can gush from its surface.

Nevertheless, the team building the MASPEX spectrometer experienced many delays and exceeded the planned budget many times. At one point, giving up the entire instrument was seriously considered.

We did everything we could to keep the instrument on board. The prevailing fact is that with it we will try to determine whether Europe's oceans are conducive to the emergence of life - says Curt Niebur, principal scientist of the Europa Clipper project, from NASA headquarters in Washington.

During the review, a new director was assigned to the MASPEX team, who will have to focus on ensuring that the construction of the instrument does not exceed the budget currently planned.

For now, two cameras remain on board

A similar situation took place in the case of the WAC wide-angle camera, which will take stunning photos of Europe, but with less scientific value than a narrow-angle camera. After analyzing the planned tasks of each of the cameras, the researchers decided to focus on the narrow-angle camera and adapt it to perform more classes so that if it was able to perform at least some of the tasks of the WAC camera. For now, however, both are rising.

This is not the first review of this type

Last year, NASA removed the ICEMAG magnetometer from the probe. As you might expect, the reason for canceling the instrument was increasing costs and technical problems.

When Europa Clipper flies to Jupiter

According to current data, the probe will launch from Earth towards Jupiter in 2024, a year later than assumed last year. Engineers can choose between two start windows - one in summer and the other in autumn. In the case of the August launch, the probe would have to fly a Space Launch System rocket, heading straight for Jupiter. In October, on the other hand, the flight will require a close flight near Mars and Earth, which will extend its time, but at the same time will allow the mission to be carried out using the proven Falcon Heavy rocket.

For now, there is no decision as to which rocket will eventually take the probe into space. Originally, NASA assumed a flight using SLS, but the rocket has not yet been created. Even if it is created on time, the first copies will carry out Artemis missions, which are the most important program at NASA. As if that was not enough, the cost of raising the probe with the Falcon Heavy will be much less than the cost of SLS.

However, the rocket decision must be made over the next few weeks to focus on adapting the probe to one particular architecture. Another review of progress in mission preparation is planned for December. By then, the decision must be made.



The construction costs of the Europa Clipper probe are rising. Some instruments may not fly

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