NASA announced April 1 that its Europa Clipper mission had passed a major milestone with the completion of its Critical Design Review.
The Europa Clipper mission is slated to be launched in 2024 with a primary focus on investigating the potential for life to exist on the frozen Galilean moon. It will also aid in the selection of a landing site for a future mission to the surface.
During the mission’s Critical Design Review, each element of the spacecraft and its payload receive a detailed examination to ensure it is ready for construction. According to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), this process has now been completed which gives engineers the green light to begin hardware fabrication and testing.
“We showed that our project system design is strong,” said Europa Clipper project manager Jan Chodas. “Our plans for completing the development and integration of the individual pieces hold together, and the system as a whole will function as designed to gather the science measurements we need to explore the potential habitability of Europa.”
Once launched, the Europa Clipper spacecraft will perform several close flybys of Europa as it orbits Jupiter along an elliptical path. According to JPL, during these flybys, the spacecraft will gather measurements of the internal ocean, map the surface composition and geology, and hunt for plumes of water vapour that are believed to vent from the ice crust of the moon.
With the fabrication of key components for the mission now beginning, the next step will be assembly and integrated testing of the spacecraft and its payload of sophisticated science instruments. The spacecraft will then be bundled up and readied for launch aboard a launch vehicle that is yet to be selected.
Europa Clipper had initially been earmarked as the first non-Artemis mission to be launched aboard NASA’s next-generation Space Launch System (SLS) rocket. However, in late January agency personnel received a memo stating that all efforts to maintain SLS compatibility for the Europa Clipper mission should be halted. This was followed up two weeks later with an official announcement that NASA was considering commercial launch vehicles for the mission.