NASA is planning a mission that will send a spacecraft to investigate Jupiter’s moon Europa sometime in the 2020s. Europa is thought to be one of the potential locations for life in our solar system. The spacecraft that will investigate the moon is the Europa Clipper.
NASA is currently testing a critical part of the spacecraft that looks like a giant satellite dish. The dish is actually the high-gain antenna that the spacecraft will use to beam back data to Earth. That data will include high-resolution images and scientific information.
Scientists believe that under the icy surface of Europa lies a liquid ocean that could harbor life and this antenna will help determine if life might exist on the moon. The antenna is a full-scale model and stands ten feet tall, the same height as a standard basketball hoop. Testing is being conducted in the Experimental Test Range (ETR) at the NASA Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia.
Testing is meant to assess the performance of the antenna and to demonstrate the high pointing accuracies required for the mission to Europa. Testing on the antenna will wrap up soon. After prototype testing ends, the scientists will return to the ETR to test the flight antenna.
Test teams spent significant time finding a facility that would work for testing the antenna before settling on the ETR. The Europa Clipper mission is set to launch in the 2020s. The flight to Europa will take three to seven years depending on the launch vehicle and planetary alignment.