NASA installs high-gain antenna for mission to study Jupiter’s icy moon

NASA’s upcoming Europa Clipper mission will explore Jupiter’s moon Europa for signs of habitability. Launched in 2024, the mission will use advanced communications tools to study the Moon’s environment and its ability to support life. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASAIt is Europe The Clipper mission, scheduled to launch in 2024, will travel 1.8 billion kilometers until JupiterEuropa, the icy moon of Europa, to study its potential to support life.

The mission will use a high-gain antenna to communicate data to Earth, exploring the moon’s atmosphere, ice crust and subsurface ocean during approximately 50 flybys.

NASA installs high-gain antenna on Europa Clipper spacecraft

When NASA’s Europa Clipper is in orbit around Jupiter, transmitting scientific data and receiving commands from Earth for hundreds of millions of miles, it will need a powerful antenna. On June 17, technicians installed the spacecraft’s high-gain antenna inside the Payload Maintenance Facility at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida.

Scheduled for launch later this year, Europa Clipper will embark on a 1.8 billion mile (2.6 billion kilometer) journey to Jupiter. It is the largest spacecraft developed by NASA for a planetary mission. Scheduled for April 2030, it will study the gas giant’s icy moon, Europa, to determine its potential to support life.

Technicians prepare to install the nearly 10-foot-wide parabola-shaped high-gain antenna on NASA’s Europa Clipper, a spacecraft intended to study Jupiter’s icy moon, at the Maintenance Facility agency’s dangerous payload at the Kennedy Space Center in Florida on Monday. 17, 2024. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Advanced communications technology

The spacecraft will make about 50 flybys of Europa, allowing its nine science instruments to collect data on the Moon’s atmosphere, its ice crust and the ocean below. The nearly 10-foot-wide dish-shaped antenna and several smaller antennas will transmit data to Earth, a journey that will take about 45 minutes when the spacecraft is in orbit around Jupiter.

To ensure that Europa Clipper has the necessary bandwidth, the antenna will operate on NASA’s deep space X-band radio frequencies of 7.2 and 8.4 (GHz) and Ka-band at 32 ( GHz), via the agency’s Deep Space Network, a global network of large radio antennas that communicate with dozens of spacecraft across the solar system.

NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft will conduct a series of flybys of Jupiter’s moon Europa to collect data on its atmosphere, icy crust and ocean below, and the high-gain antenna will send the research data to the scientists on Earth to determine whether the moon can support habitable conditions. The Europa Clipper spacecraft is scheduled to launch atop a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Launch Complex 39A no earlier than October 2024. Credit: NASA/Kim Shiflett

Exploring habitability in our solar system

Europa Clipper underscores NASA’s commitment to exploring our solar system to search for habitable conditions beyond Earth. Although Europa Clipper is not a life detection mission, understanding Europa’s habitability will help us better understand how life developed on Earth and whether we are likely to find conditions that could support life beyond our planet.

NASA Kennedy technicians will continue to prepare the spacecraft for its mission and perform final checks as part of preparations for launch. Europa Clipper is expected to launch atop a EspaceX Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Launch Complex 39A, no earlier than October 2024.

Engineering and Mission Management

Europa Clipper’s high-gain antenna was designed by Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, and aerospace supplier Applied Aerospace Structures Corporation (AASC) in Stockton , in California.

Managed by Caltech in Pasadena, California, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is leading development of the Europa Clipper mission in partnership with APL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The main body of the spacecraft was designed by APL in collaboration with JPL and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland. The Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, performs program management for the Europa Clipper mission.

NASA’s Launch Services Program, based at Kennedy, manages the launch service for the Europa Clipper spacecraft.

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