NASA hits milestone for new exploration mission to Europa

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NASA Hits Milestone for New Exploration Mission to Europa

NASA's planned mission to Europa has passed its first internal review and now enters the stage known as formulation.

This would be NASA's first visit to Jupiter or its moons since New Horizons flew by on its way to Pluto, and the first dedicated science probe since the Galileo mission wrapped up its tour of Jupiter and its moons in 2003.

Europa is one of the leading candidates for worlds that might support life beyond Earth. The mission, which doesn't have an official name yet, would send a dedicated probe to investigate Europa's physical characteristics and evaluate its potential for supporting life.

The Galileo mission showed Europa exerted influence on Jupiter's magnetic field, consistent with conductive fluid beneath the moon's icy surface. The leading theory now is Europa is covered by a global ocean of saltwater. This new mission's science payload is designed to explore that possibility.

"Cameras and spectrometers to collect high-resolution imagery, an ice-penetrating radar to measure surface thickness and look for subsurface lakes, and a magnetometer to measure the strength and direction of the moon's magnetic field."

One problem is the radiation. Jupiter emits high-energy electrons that can damage sensitive equipment aboard space probes.

"Any mission that goes in the vicinity of Europa is cooked pretty quickly. Instead we're looking at a mission that would orbit Jupiter, make close flybys of Europa, and then zip out of the high-radiation region," said project scientist Robert Pappalardo.

The probe would complete an orbit around Jupiter every two weeks or so, for an expected total of 45 flybys.

It will be a while, though. This early in the process NASA hasn't even started assembling the spacecraft. A launch isn't expected until sometime in the 2020s.

Love space? Check out these awesome photos from Italian astronaut Sam Cristoforetti:

Samantha Cristoforetti astronaut Twitter photos
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NASA hits milestone for new exploration mission to Europa
And a look from above into the eye of the cyclone! E uno sguardo dall'alto nell'occhio del ciclone. #Bansi
Finally I’m seeing some land! Got to the Cupola just in time to see the Eastern tip of South America! #Futura42
Cloudy over tip of S.America, but hole in the cloud coverage allowed me to see the Falkland Islands(Islas Malvinas).
Sometimes we fly over cloud patterns like this… hypnotizing! #HelloEarth #CloudGazing
And sometimes reliefs like this emerge from a sea of clouds. Sculptures of condensation… #CloudGazing
And other times… well, I don’t know what to say… see for yourself! #CloudGazing
Wind and clouds in action on the Namibian coast! #HelloEarth #Futura42
Blue jewels in Argentina! Lago Argentino, Lago Viedma and Lago San Martin. #Futura42
I feel we’re navigating on black sea sprinkled with stars and the Earth with its moving clouds is the sky #HelloEarth
Remembering Nelson #Mandela. Space Station flew over Robben Island today, the site of his imprisonment.
Flying along the coast of #Tanzania just South of Zanzibar. #HelloEarth
And here come the island of Zanzibar and, on the coast, Dar Es Salaam #Tanzania #HelloEarth
Stunning shades of blue in the Southern Lake Titicaca in #Bolivia and #Peru. #HelloEarth
And a closer look at mountain Qhapiya. A National Cultural Heritage site of #Peru!
A storm seen from above – hello #Madagascar! (IT) Una tempesta vista dall'alto - ciao Madagascar!
More #Madagascar – looks pretty arid on this portion of the coastline. #HelloEarth
And finally, some of the famous #Seychelles islands… I bet some of you are heading that way in a few weeks!
Buenos dias #Chile! If I’m not mistaken, this is your capital Santiago. Must have stunning view on the mountains!
Beautiful night pass over the Arabian peninsula. Do you know what city this might be? #Futura42
Flying over #Patagonia and stealing a #space look at the estuary region of the Deseado River. #Argentina #HelloEarth
And here's Cagliari by night. I have wonderful memories of my visits!
Forgot where I took this picture. Very distinct pretty lines of light - looks familiar to anyone? #HelpRequired
Who says that it rains all the time in #England? We've been having amazing clear views from up here! #HelloEarth
Can't get over my fascination with #clouds. How about these over South America? #Futura42
Perfect harmony. The Baltic region, a splendid #aurora and a sky full of stars. #HelloEarth
The wind paints with clouds over South America!/(IT) Il vento dipinge con le nuvole sul Sud America #HelloEarth
Some of the beautiful #Caribbean islands.. Guadeloupe, Dominica and Martinique. #HelloEarth
And nearby by night... hello Dubai, Abu Dhabi and Al Ain! #HelloEarth
Fascinated by the almost Martian landscape as we flew over #Algeria to the Mediterrean. #HelloEarth #Futura42
Finally a daylight pass over #Italy! Only Calabria, Puglia and Basilicata refuse to succumb to the clouds!
Can you spot the lake in the crater of volcano Cosiguina in #Nicaragua? #HelloEarth
On a Niger river bend is Gao, once capital of Songhai Empire. Tomb of Askia in Gao is #UNESCO #Worldheritage #Mali.
Tannum Sands in Queensland, #Australia, as I peeked out of the window brushing my teeth last night. Beautiful place!
Simple colors colliding on planet Earth. Semplici colori che collidono sul pianeta Terra. #ColorsFromMyWindow
And colors flowing into shapes and textures. E colori che fluiscono in forme. #ColorsFromMyWindow
And then this came into view. Amazing! Part of the Great Barrier Reef in the Coral Sea. #Australia #HelloEarth
Snow-capped Western Alps. Amazing how that little cloud can cast such a big shadow on the Po plane in #Italy!
Over Leptis Magna archeological site in #Libya, among most beautiful cities of Roman Empire! #UNESCO #WorldHeritage
Hello #Argentina and #Uruguay! You passed by as I was exercising friday. Was happy to take a short break!
Sunglint lighting up the Golfo de Fonseca, shared by #Nicaragua, #Honduras and #ElSalvador. #HelloEarth
Hello #Greece! How evocative... can't help seeing the heroes of so many epic tales and the Gods of so many myths.
Hello #Marocco! Spotted the medina of Marrakesh, a #UNESCO cultural #WorldHeritage. And a great sight from #space!
Good catch, everybody! Hello Montevideo, #Uruguay. (Buenos Aires will be for another day).
These colors almost look too beautiful to be true. Colori quasi troppo belli per essere veri. #Bahamas #HelloEarth
Mesmerizing colors of our planet. Hey, can you also "see" a person in there? #HelloEarth #Futura42
On #Christmas day: the Alpine valley where I grew up. Il giorno di #Natale, la valle alpina dove sono cresciuta.
If Santa moved to Southern hemisphere, probably here. Se Babbo Natale si trasferisse all'emisfero sud... #Patagonia
Clear skies over Gargano in #Italy this morning. Cieli sereni sul Gargano stamattina! #HelloEarth
Hello #Senegal! The Saloum delta, a #UNESCO cultural #WorldHeritage site... and a stunning view from #space.
And happy Saturday #Macedonia! Here's your capital Skopje from #space this morning. Buongiorno Skopje, Macedonia!
I think you can tell where North is, right? #Canada today. Penso si capisca dove e' il nord in questa foto, no?
#NewYork NewYork! Can almost see the Statue of Liberty. Which is, by the way, #UNESCO #WorldHeritage!
O'ahu island with the city of Honolulu, in the beautiful #Hawaii / L'isola di O'ahu con la città di Honolulu, Hawaii
And hello from #space #Baltimore, hometown of my crewmate @AstroTerry. Hope you were smiling yesterday!
Part of the #Aral sea peaking through the clouds as we flew into #Kazakhstan! #HelloEarth
Quebec City and the St. Lawrence river dressed for winter! The historic district is #WorldHeritage. #UNESCO #Canada
#Brasil, North of Manaus. I'm curious, what are these patterns? #HelpRequired
This area saw some serious action about 350 million years ago! Gweni-Fada meteorite crater in #Chad.
Hello cloud lovers! Here's a treat I spotted in Morocco. #cloudGazing
Shades of white. The Missouri river and Lake Sakakawea - looks chilly down there in #NorthDakota! #HelloEarth
Hello Dominican Republic! Nested in the green is capital Santo Domingo, a #WorldHeritage site! #UNESCO
Beauty everywhere! Flying from the Mediterranean to the Caspian Sea, this appeared through the clouds. #HelloEarth
Hello #Azerbaijan and lively capital Baku, city of winds! The ancient walled city of Baku is #UNESCO #WorldHeritage.
Hello #Budapest! That's where 2014 started for me. Great memories! Il 2014 e' iniziato qui per me. Bei ricordi!
By now all the planet is in 2015! #HappyNewYear from #space Ormai in tutto il pianeta e' arrivato il 2015. #Buon2015
Yesterday morning, #Italy from Trentino to the Ligurian sea. Ieri mattina l'Italia dal Trentino al Mar LIgure.
Lonely in the Pacific, the famous Rapa Nui or Easter Island. This very unique place is #WorldHeritage. #UNESCO #Chile
From Munich (under clouds) to Bolzano via Innsbruck. All cities very dear to me where I have spent many years.
Hello #Sicily! Look what I found today in an unsorted folder. Ciao #Sicilia! Una foto ritrovata per caso! #Italy
Hello #Lisbon! Hieronymites Monastery & Tower of Belém at the harbor entrance are #UNESCO #WorldHeritage #Portugal
The English Channel - La Manche on a cloudy winter day. #France #UK // Il Canale della Manica in un giorno di nuvolo.
The characteristic red patterns of some Sahara regions. Always a mesmerizing sight. #ColorsOfTheEarth #HelloEarth
I'd say this is the Columbia river. What do you say, friends in #Washington state? #HelloEarth
Hello #Mauritania! Biodiversity of this marine zone makes Banc d'Aguin National Park a #Worldheritage site. #UNESCO
Looks like giant crack in the ice, but I think it's the border of Lake Khovsgol. What do you think? #Mongolia
That special Caribbean blue always captivates me, on clear days through a whirlwind of clouds.
Here's a closer look to M. Etna. And hello #Catania! / Ecco l'Etna da più vicino. E un saluto a #Catania! #Italy
By the salt lakes, can you see Edwards Air Force Base? Many astros were trained here, including @AstroTerry !
On shores of Lake Ohrid, the town Ohrid in #Macedonia, one of the 1st founded in Europe. #UNESCO #WorldHeritage
Some serious air traffic over the Appalachian Mountains in the #US! #HelloEarth
After a long journey through Europe and European capitals, the Danube finally arrives to the Black Sea. #HelloEarth
Hello #Greece! The Acropolis of Athens is a #UNESCO #WorldHeritage site. Haven't visited yet, it's way overdue!
Great Salt Lake in Utah, US. Why the two colors, anyone knows?/ (IT)Qualcuno sa come mai è di due colori? #HelloEarth
Hello #Venezuela and #Colombia!
Hello #Boston and Gulf of Maine! You make a beautiful sight from #space. #HelloEarth
Not sure why, but flying over the Strait of Gibraltar always brings a special emotion. #HelloEarth
Hello #SanFrancisco! What a clear view of the Bay Area from #space, I think I can see the Golden Gate!
In the mountains of #Kyrgyzstan. You can follow the river all the way to Baikonur! #HelloEarth
Quite some thunderstorms last night over Southern #Italy! / Un bel po' di lampi sopra il Sud #Italia l'altra notte!
The Namib Sand Sea - looks almost fluid from #space. #Namibia #HelloEarth
Hello Stromboli ! This volcano in #Italy is never too quiet. Ciao Stromboli, mai troppo tranquillo!
Hello #Mexico! The Southern tip of Baja California extending into the ocean. #HelloEarth
Hello beautiful Lecce! Can you spot the @ItalianAirForce airport of Galatina, where I trained years ago? #Italy
Hello #SanDiego! Thinking of a great visit a few years ago.
Two eyes looking back at me./ (IT) Due occhi che a loro volta mi guardano. #HelloEarth
If it was a painting, who do you think would have painted it? Happy #AustraliaDay!
Hello #Australia & beautiful Shark Bay! Sea grass beds, sea cows and stomatolites in this #UNESCO #WorldHeritage site
Sierra Nevada, true to its name. Hello #Yosemite National Park (great memories!) and Lake Tahoe (want to visit!)
Hello #Sudan! This peculiar bend in the Nile has become a very familiar landmark from #space. #HelloEarth
What do you think of this view of the #GranCanyon and Western United States? I was quite impressed.
May the memory of such a dark time in our past enlighten the future with wisdom and compassion. #RemembranceDay
Hello #Venice from #space! I have flown in the area many times, but never quite as high.
The clear waters of the Yucatan peninsula in #Mexico. #HelloEarth
Hello #Yemen and Sana'a! Inhabited for over 2500 years, the old city of Sana'a is a #UNESCO #WorldHeritage site.
Hello #LosAngeles from #space! And a special hello to family and friends in Santa Monica and Pasadena.
Hello #Algeria! The Kasbah of Algiers on the Mediterranean coast is a #WorldHeritage site. #UNESCO
Tonight a special thought to #Italy after an important day. Stasera un pensiero all'Italia dopo giorno importante!
A barren African landscape / (IT) Un brullo paesaggio Africano. #HelloEarth
Amazing... the sunglint makes the currents in sea visible. #HelloEarth
Pretty winter view close to Canada-US border. Any idea where it might be? Maybe Montana or Washington? #HelpRequired
The Gulf of St. Lawrence has become one of my favorite places. Look at these amazing cloud patterns! #Canada
Hello Trento! That's where I went to school in my senior year. Good memories! #Italy
Australian coastline always offers stunning views! / (IT) La costa australiana è sempre spettacolare! #HelloEarth
Hello #Kenya! We passed over the Lake Turkana region, here's a view from #space!
Like a wound in the Earth, the Grand Canyon / (IT) Come un taglio nella Terra, il Gran Canyon. #HelloEarth

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