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Thread: Europa Exploration

  1. #1
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    Europa Exploration

    Why hasn't there been a concerted effort to explore the moon of Jupiter known as Europa? It seems to me that since it is theorized that underneath of the ice crust is liquid water 100km thick, it would stand a reasonable chance of harboring life. I think this is the best candidate in our planetary system which may harbor extraterrestrial life even in the form of bacteria. So why has not NASA or the ESA planned out a mission to explore this world?

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    Quote Originally Posted by kurtsemler View Post
    Why hasn't there been a concerted effort to explore the moon of Jupiter known as Europa? It seems to me that since it is theorized that underneath of the ice crust is liquid water 100km thick, it would stand a reasonable chance of harboring life. I think this is the best candidate in our planetary system which may harbor extraterrestrial life even in the form of bacteria. So why has not NASA or the ESA planned out a mission to explore this world?
    Short answer is money. Only so many missions can be financed in the allocated budget and projects like JIMO fell victim to the axe.

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    There is still a plan in place to visit Europa but it is a long way from being finalized:

    Jupiter Icy Moon Explorer

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    I don't want just a probe to study the magnetosphere, I want a surface lander to penetrate the surface, and examine the subterranean surface for life, even in microscopic form.

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    I think the two main ways to do this are either a mechanical drill or through heat. The drill would be a major technological undertaking, be heavy and complicated, and would have to be nuclear powered. Melting through the ice would also have to be nuclear and have some interesting complexities of its own. The nuclear part is something that would make getting it approved highly unlikely.

    But I'd be all for anything we could throw there, since I also think there might be something to find.

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    What I like about thermal penetration is that there is less to go wrong. Instead of a drill, which will needs lots of torque and power and has many moving parts that could snap or break, heating elements are much simpler, at least in theory. My personal idea was to have the penetrator attached to the surface lander by a long cable which carries power to it and telemetry to it to be broadcast to Earth. This means the penetrator itself can be significantly smaller, which means less ice to melt, which means less power is needed.
    But yes, nuclear power of some sort is most likely going to be needed that far out, and that has political . . .implications.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kurtsemler View Post
    I don't want just a probe to study the magnetosphere, I want a surface lander to penetrate the surface, and examine the subterranean surface for life, even in microscopic form.
    I want a pony. Ain't gonna happen. The budgetary situation for NASA is getting worse not better so you can forget about any ambitious Europa mission.

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    Outside of what's already en route or there now, there are no outer planets missions on the table for the next decade.

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    Which, along with the fact no outer planet flagship was launched in the 2000's (the previous Decadal Survey envisioned one such mission per decade) should tell you something.

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    Well that answers the OP, perhaps we should ask : how can we explore europa or a similar target (Enceladus, Titan, lets not forget Io...) within the current budgetary restraints?
    In space PR and Politics are as important as engineering and science. And no-one can hear you screaming about it.

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

    Exploring other worlds with people is a great idea, but look at what has happened since the end of Apollo: How much could unmanned exploration (and astronomy) have discovered with all that money blown on paper rockets?

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    Quote Originally Posted by marsbug View Post

    Well that answers the OP, perhaps we should ask : how can we explore europa or a similar target (Enceladus, Titan, lets not forget Io...) within the current budgetary restraints?
    Either recruit international partners, a little tough for the US as they've bailed on several such projects, or cut something else from the budget.

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    Transfer the problem over to someone who has a budget. Make it a military target. Downsides are there won't be much science done and any life found might be considered insurgents.

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    You know, part of the reason NASA budget keeps getting slashed is because people aren't excited about space exploration. If we, people who have a keen enough interest to join a science forum and discuss space exploration, can't get excited enough to think daring, then, who will?
    Sometimes 'realism' seems to be just a synonym for 'defeatism'.
    Let's want science to be daring, like drilling into Europa, or sending an eye so far out the suns gravity is its lens, lets dare to dream big.
    Because its a big universe out there, and I want humanity to know it, to see it, to love it for all its mystery and majesty, from the largest galactic super cluster to the smallest elementary particle.
    To quote Calvin's last words to the world, words of wonder and joy of discovery,
    "It's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy . . .let's go exploring!"

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    Would drilling into Europa be exciting to the general public? Unfortunately, I don't know if it would. Consider the Cassini-Huygens mission. Everything about this mission was/is superlative. WE LANDED A PROBE ON TITAN. And yet, other than space enthusiasts I don't think a single person I know would even know that--much less that the mission is still ongoing and still returning exciting pictures and data.

    Cassini-Huygens is the Voyager mission of my generation. But as far as the general public is concerned? If they've heard of it at all it's because of a minor stink a few environmentalists made before its launch.

    In the 1990's, both Shoemaker-Levy and Mars Pathfinder were able to at least inspire a couple movies. (Deep Impact and Armaggedon, Mission to Mars and Red Planet) Heck, even John Glenn's shuttle flight inspired the movie Space Cowboys.

    But I don't really think that the general public was really aware of the events which inspired those movies. The general public just isn't very interested in space. Maybe the Shoemaker-Levy was the last space related event to stick in the public psyche, because it demonstrated a threat to life here on Earth in a visible way.

    Maybe that's the only way to get today's public interested in space. NEO nudging is something that actually matters to humanity here on Earth. And it can leverage military technology; maybe even fall under military budgets if we want to go down that road...

    Hmm...speaking of asteroid nudging, that might be a credible way to "explore" Europa. Just as Deep Impact and LCROSS demonstated kinetic impact based science. Smack the target, and you get to study the contents just under the surface without the delta-v required to land or the complication of drilling. We could do the same thing with Europa. To explore deeper, we just need a more massive impactor.

    So, we develop NEO nudging techniques, and use them to nudge an asteroid or an outer moon of Jupiter onto a collision course with Europa. Then, a probe can follow the impactor to study the ejecta. Also, a lander could explore the surface and study fallen ejecta.

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    More simple: We would have a difficult time building a device to do the same thing HERE.

    You can bet it's on the to-do list but it takes time and money to mount an expedition....

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    ^
    Ditto. Totally aside from the budgetary concerns, any dedicated Europa mission will be difficult, from the transit time (which would probably be a Galileo-like multiyear series of slingshots), from the considerable fuel needed to decelerate into orbit, then to use the other satellites to lose delta-v and match orbits with Europa--this before we even orbit around Europa proper, or take into account the radiation that would steadily cook even our toughest hardware, probably within months at Europa's distance (which is why Juno is spending as little time as possible in Galilean territory). Europa will always hold a special place in my heart, but I suspect considerations like this will put Titan and Enceladus ahead of the pack in future mission selections, despite their greater distance.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Romanus View Post
    Outside of what's already en route or there now, there are no outer planets missions on the table for the next decade.
    I suppose that depends on how you define "decade." Possibly within the next ten years, a mission to Uranus is on the table for NASA, with others possible from other nations. Granted, none of them are looking too promising at the moment...

    As for Europa, everyone else has pretty much put out the problem. Such a subsurface mission would be expensive and technically extremely challenging, far more than outer solar system flyby, orbiter, surface lander, or advanced Mars robotic missions. Probably more than many of those missions combined.

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    Quote Originally Posted by ravens_cry View Post
    You know, part of the reason NASA budget keeps getting slashed is because people aren't excited about space exploration. If we, people who have a keen enough interest to join a science forum and discuss space exploration, can't get excited enough to think daring, then, who will?
    Sometimes 'realism' seems to be just a synonym for 'defeatism'.
    Let's want science to be daring, like drilling into Europa, or sending an eye so far out the suns gravity is its lens, lets dare to dream big.
    Because its a big universe out there, and I want humanity to know it, to see it, to love it for all its mystery and majesty, from the largest galactic super cluster to the smallest elementary particle.
    To quote Calvin's last words to the world, words of wonder and joy of discovery,
    "It's a magical world, Hobbes ol' buddy . . .let's go exploring!"
    What he said.

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    I think we ned to better understand europa; if there is material from the ocean being bought up to the surface we may be able to get some answeres without drilling.

    Bear in mind also that enceladus may also harbour a subsurface sea, but enceladus is definately carrying material to the surface!
    In space PR and Politics are as important as engineering and science. And no-one can hear you screaming about it.

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

    Exploring other worlds with people is a great idea, but look at what has happened since the end of Apollo: How much could unmanned exploration (and astronomy) have discovered with all that money blown on paper rockets?

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    Quote Originally Posted by kurtsemler View Post
    So why has not NASA or the ESA planned out a mission to explore this world?
    Thay have planned, but the missions have not flown (so far). See this for a start: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Europa_...uture_Missions

    There are difficult problems with landing on Europa:

    1. Fuel. Contrary to Mars, Titan, or Venus, Europa has no atmosphere, so the probe cannot descend on parachute and must take fuel for landing. Something like its own weight in fuel, if I remember correctly. That in turn means that we must throw this fuel to Jupiter, which requires (you guessed it) even more fuel. So the first thing we would have to do is to put all this fuel in Earth orbit. And we are currently limited to rockets which can put around 22'000 kg in Eath orbit. It's difficult to fit a sensible landing probe and all that fuel in 22'000kg. (We may see bigger rockets fly within this decade though.)

    2. Transmission delay. Radio waves need between 33 and 53 minutes (depending on current position of planets) to get from Earth to Jupiter. Forget remote control. The probe has to operate autonomously.

    3. Radiation level on the surface of Europa is enough to kill a human. That means it is enough to cause problems with electronics. So all that electronics would need to be heavily shielded. More shielding means more mass. More mass means more fuel. See 1.

    4. If you wanted to melt through the ice, you'd have to take a nuclear reactor. Launching a nuclear reactor would make some people very nervous. Plus, nuclear reactor is heavy, so see 1.

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    A Deep Impact/LCROSS type impactor mission could avoid the pesky issue of fuel for landing. It might even be possible to try and sample some of the ejected gas.

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    Quote Originally Posted by kamaz View Post
    So the first thing we would have to do is to put all this fuel in Earth orbit. And we are currently limited to rockets which can put around 22'000 kg in Eath orbit. It's difficult to fit a sensible landing probe and all that fuel in 22'000kg. (We may see bigger rockets fly within this decade though).
    That's assuming that you send all the mass in one launch, surface to surface. By the time it's remotely feasible to do a Europa drilling expedition, we'll probably have gotten over that phase and be assembling craft and fuel depots in orbit via multiple launches.
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    "It is the duty of the writers to seduce me into suspending my disbelief!" Paul Beardsley

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

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    Another issue is the design of the submarine probe. Do we know enough about Europa's ocean to design a functioning submarine for those conditions, whatever those may be? How thick is the ice-sheet, are we talking something like Earth's North pole or more like a planetary crust? What is the pressure down there? It seems like a difficult situation: We need a probe to find out these things, but in order to design the probe we must first know these things. So, I suppose there will first have to be few orbital missions or scouting missions before we can even consider sending a probe to penetrate through the ice-sheet into the ocean.

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    Strikes me that europa needs the kind of exploration effort currently going on at mars..... however we're already focussed on marsand it is easier to get to.....
    In space PR and Politics are as important as engineering and science. And no-one can hear you screaming about it.

    "There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, Than are dreamt of in your philosophy."

    Exploring other worlds with people is a great idea, but look at what has happened since the end of Apollo: How much could unmanned exploration (and astronomy) have discovered with all that money blown on paper rockets?

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    As things stand it'll probably be a generation or two before we even get a lander on the surface of Europa. But if we do, that'll at least give us information about things like the ice composition and thickness, and maybe subsurface seismic activity (if it's a well-designed probe, anyway). It might even get lucky and find frozen bacteria or the like-- fingers crossed!
    I'm a cynical optimist. I think the only way out is through, but once we get through it'll be better. Very different, but better. Howard Tayler

    It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change. Charles Darwin

    "It is the duty of the writers to seduce me into suspending my disbelief!" Paul Beardsley

    Power, Lord Acton says, corrupts. Not always. What power always does is reveal. Robert A. Caro

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    Quote Originally Posted by IsaacKuo View Post
    A Deep Impact/LCROSS type impactor mission could avoid the pesky issue of fuel for landing. It might even be possible to try and sample some of the ejected gas.
    I think that's probably a great idea to get a cheaper mission and at least get some of the science done to figure out what to do next.

    Hopefully there's no one that would get angry at being bombarded.

  27. 2011-Sep-21, 02:41 PM
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    Quote Originally Posted by AutoBoof View Post
    I find it sad that the general public is not interested in space at all.

    The average Joe just focuses on what is immediately in front of them. They are not interested in something millions of miles away, they have football and reality TV shows to watch. Not far sighted enough to see the importance of space exploration.
    I think the average Joe understands the importance of space exploration. If anything, the average Joe has an inflated idea of how important it is.
    If a giant NEO was to hit earth tomorrow with no to minimal warning, what would be left over?
    The small amount of probes we have sent beyond earth's gravity thus far. Lets get a space colony up and running…that is the main goal.
    Actually, the better strategy is the one which the average Joe understands--disaster prevention. Rather than hopelessly try and build a self sustaining space colony, we should try and prevent the NEO from causing death and destruction in the first place.

    Also, if the goal is a survival shelter, the best place to put it would be somewhere here on Earth. Something like the mineshaft colonies suggested in Doctor Strangelove is something we could actually do. A self sustaining space colony is not something we can do yet.

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    Exploring Europa's oceans will be cool. I expect that most people have no idea how far we are from being able to do that. Europa is a big object with no atmosphere. You can't use parachutes as a cheap way to reduce your velocity like the ESA did on Titan, or we do on Mars and Venus. Once you get there you need something very radiation shielded to control your operations, and you need megawatts of power to get through the ice, and to signal Earth with the high-bandwidth results. You need some kind of submarine that can take the pressure of being tens of miles down, and it needs to have tens of miles of fiber-optic tether that it spools out to be able to relay information back to the surface.

    At the moment, we don't have a lot of the technology required for such a mission, let alone budget. Nothing magical is required, but there's a lot of stuff that's never been built before on the list.

    But when we have it, it will be cool to see the results.
    Forming opinions as we speak

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    It's a shame but I've already reached the age (45) where I'm convinced there will be no Europa Sea exploration in my life. For all the reasons eloquently explained above. :-(

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    I'm wary of a fiber-optic tether solution. A shift in ice could shear it in two. How far could long wavelength radio signals penetrate? If they could penetrate, say, ten kilometers, it might be practical to use a relay system. The melter could drop off relays on the way down.

    Hmm...perhaps the best solution would be individual melters each with its own radio relay. Each individual melter simply melts its way down via an RTG in the nose. The only control is up/down via buoyancy control. If a digger runs into a rock, it may attempt to get around the obstacle by climbing up--but a gas pocket could block the way upward also. So, each individual melter is at risk of getting stuck.

    However, the group of diggers as a whole offer a lot of redundancy. And if a digger gets stuck, its mission isn't necessarily over--it can still serve as a relay.

    If any melters make it all the way to an ocean underneath, then it's possible they could explore around a bit using up/down control (like a submarine glider). It's also possible that ocean currents would sweep them too far away from the communications relays. So, the default logic should be to try and return to the ice and only make short hops down into the water. But a gas pocket could prevent a return upward to the ice.

    So...there are a lot of risks. My thinking is that there are too many unknowns to make a single digger/swimmer capable of handling all situations. So, the better strategy is to use a bunch of simpler diggers that provide redundancy.

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