Jupiter’s moon Europa is a prime target in our exploration of potentially habitable worlds and of ocean worlds in the outer solar system. Europa’s subsurface ocean has likely existed for much of the history of the solar system and may provide a persistent, stable environment rich in the elements and energy needed for the emergence of life. The ocean is likely in contact with a rocky, silicate seafloor, and tectonic activity in the ice shell may allow reductant-oxidant cycling. The persistence of Europa’s ocean and the potential for finding signs of life at Europa makes Europa exploration key for both astrobiological and comparative oceanography goals.
The Europa Lander mission concept represents a flagship-level mission to explore Europa’s surface. Its high-level science goals are: (1) search for evidence of biosignatures on Europa, (2) assess the habitability of Europa via in situ techniques uniquely available to a lander and (3) characterize surface and subsurface properties of the ice shell. The lander would collect and process ≥3 separate samples, each at least 7 cm3 in volume, acquired from a depth of ≥10 cm. Using primary batteries, a lander could operate for 60 days or more on the surface.
The mission concept balances technical risk with science return and cost, achieving high value science while leveraging significant heritage from other successful landed missions that have conducted in situ science elsewhere in the Solar System. Future Europa Clipper data will be used for landing site reconnaissance and selection. The relative timing of the Clipper and Lander missions will provide several years for identification of a suitable landing site. The terrain relative navigation system used by Mars 2020 will deliver the lander safely to Europa’s surface. When coupled with hazard avoidance, a landing ellipse just 200m across can be achieved. Here we provide an overview of significant milestones, developments and technology advancements. Many of the technology and instrumentation investments made to date could be utilized for other ocean world missions.
A portion of this research was carried out at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, under a contract with the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (80NM0018D0004). Copyright, 2021. All rights reserved.