A few more steps to Jupiter’s Moon Europa: spacecraft hardware makes progress

NASA’s Europa Clipper, shown in this illustration which was updated in December 2020, will circle Jupiter on an elliptical trajectory, dipping near its moon Europa on each flyover to collect data. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Take a closer look at the intricate choreography involved in the construction ">NasaEuropa Clipper as an exploration mission JupiterThe European moon is approaching its launch date in 2024.

The hardware that makes up NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft is quickly taking shape, as engineering components and instruments are prepared for delivery to the main cleanroom at the agency’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California. In workshops and laboratories across the country and in Europe, teams create the intricate pieces that make up the ensemble while mission leaders lead the elaborate choreography of building a flagship mission.

The enormous 3 meter high propulsion module recently moved from NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., To the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Md., Where engineers will install electronics, radios , antennas and cabling. The spacecraft’s thick aluminum vault, which will shield Europa Clipper’s electronics from intense Jupiter radiation, is nearing completion at JPL. Construction and testing of scientific instruments at universities and partner institutions across the country is also continuing.

Europa Clipper propulsion tank

Engineers at NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Md., Prepare to insert a tank of propellant into the cylinder in the background to the left. The cylinder is one of the two that make up the propulsion module of Europa Clipper. Credit: NASA / GSFC Denny Henry

The mission is also preparing for its system integration review in late 2021, when NASA reviews Europa Clipper’s assembly and test plans, and its instruments will be inspected in detail.

“It is really exciting to see the progression of flight hardware move forward this year as the different pieces are put together bit by bit and tested,” said Jan Chodas, Europa Clipper project manager, JPL. “The project team is dynamic and more focused than ever on delivering a spacecraft with an exquisite instrument suite that promises to revolutionize our knowledge of Europe.”

Jupiter Europa’s icy moon, home to an internal ocean with twice the amount of water in Earth’s oceans combined, may currently have the right conditions for life. Europa Clipper will carry a wide range of scientific instruments in orbit around Jupiter and perform several close flyovers of Europa to collect data on its atmosphere, surface and interior.

Europa Clipper Engineers and Technicians

Engineers and technicians in a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory showcase the thick-walled aluminum vault they helped build for the Europa Clipper spacecraft. The vault will shield the spacecraft’s electronics from the intense radiation from Jupiter. In the background is a duplicate safe. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

On-site equipment

The delivery of Goddard’s massive propulsion module to APL was a milestone for this major piece of equipment. APL built the twin cylinders that make up the module and shipped them to JPL, where technicians added heat tubes that will carry coolant to keep the spacecraft from getting too hot or too cold in deep space. From there the cylinders went to Goddard, where propellant tanks were installed inside them and 16 rocket motors were attached to the outside.

Another large piece of hardware nearing completion is the spacecraft’s radiator, which connects to the heat tube. The width and length of a single bed, the 3-inch-thick (7.5-centimeter) panel of the radiator has the crucial task of diffusing heat into space to keep the spacecraft within its temperature range of. functioning. It is covered with louvers that open and close automatically as the spacecraft disperses more or less heat to regulate its temperature.

Engineers Clipper Europa

Engineers in a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory build the nadir bridge for NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft. The bridge will stabilize the spacecraft’s sensors and help the mission team make sure their instruments are oriented correctly. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Meanwhile, work at APL begins to integrate the propulsion module and telecommunications equipment (electronics, radios, antennas and wiring). And construction of a high-gain antenna – a nearly 3-meter-wide dish – is underway at supplier Applied Aerospace Structures Corporation in Stockton, California. It will be delivered to the APL this year, where it will be integrated before the whole module returns one last time to JPL. By Spring 2022, the huge item will join other Europa Clipper streaming hardware in JPL’s large main bay for assembly, test and launch (ATLO) operations.

One of the first items in place for ATLO will be the vault of the spacecraft, which is now entering its final stage of manufacture at JPL. Eventually, the vault will be bolted to the top of the propulsion module and secured with miles of wiring so that the power box and the computer inside can communicate with the other subsystems.

Attached to the vault there will be a bridge, also completing the assembly at the JPL, which will support many instrument sensors. Called the Nadir Bridge, it stabilizes the spacecraft’s sensors and helps ensure they are oriented correctly.

Scientific instruments nearing completion

As the spacecraft’s body, electronics, and engineering subsystems come together, nine scientific instruments are assembled and tested in a network of clean rooms at NASA centers, partner institutions, and vendors. of private industry. The instrument suite will study everything from the depth of the internal ocean and its salinity to the thickness of the ice crust and the potential plumes that could carry groundwater out into space.

Cartographic imaging spectrometer for Europa MISE

Europa Clipper’s Mapping Imaging Spectrometer for Europa (MISE) spectrometer is seen in the middle of the assembly in a clean room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. MISE will analyze the infrared light reflected by Europa and map in detail the composition of its surface. Credit: NASA / JPL-Caltech

Scheduled for delivery to ATLO from late 2021 to mid-2022, the instruments, which include cameras to capture surface geology in detail, are undergoing extensive testing. Engineers want to make sure that the instruments can communicate properly with the flight computer, spacecraft software, and power subsystem, so they can respond to commands and transmit data to Earth.

Heads of mission recognize that COVID-19[female[feminine The challenges have put a strain on project and instrument teams as they find ways to meet deadlines when parts are delayed or staff are short. Engineers, technicians and scientists continue to operate.

“What we have seen, even in the midst of the pandemic, is that the engineering and instrument teams are responding very well. The pandemic has affected the mission schedule, but the teams are grappling with challenges, communicating openly and showing tremendous flexibility to keep hardware on track for our launch in October 2024, ”said Jordan Evans, Chief deputy project manager of Europa Clipper. “We see it day in and day out, in the whole team, and it’s fantastic.”

Learn more about the mission

Missions such as Europa Clipper contribute to the field of astrobiology, interdisciplinary research into the variables and conditions of distant worlds that might harbor life as we know it. Although Europa Clipper is not a life-detecting mission, it will perform a detailed reconnaissance of Europa and determine if the frozen moon, with its subterranean ocean, has the capacity to support life. Understanding the habitability of Europe will help scientists better understand how life developed on Earth and the potential to find life beyond our planet.

Managed by Caltech in Pasadena, California, JPL is leading the development of the Europa Clipper mission in partnership with APL for the NASA Science Missions Directorate in Washington. The Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, performs program management for the Europa Clipper mission.

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