Faced with a congressional mandate to add a lander to a planned mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, NASA is considering launching the lander separately from the main mission.
In discussions Feb. 1 at a meeting of NASA’s Outer Planets Assessment Group in San Antonio, Texas, agency officials said they are considering how to add a lander to a mission under development to make multiple flybys of Europa, even though the lander will weigh significantly more than the main “clipper” spacecraft.
Curt Niebur, outer planets program scientist at NASA Headquarters, said at the meeting that the biggest challenge of adding the lander to the Europa mission is its mass: about 8,000 kilograms, to accommodate the propellant needed to land the spacecraft softly on the surface. He added that estimate was “very rough” based on the limited studies of lander concepts to date. By comparison, the clipper spacecraft alone would have a mass of only about 5,000 kilograms.
That additional mass would drive the selection of the launch vehicle, requiring the use of the Space Launch System. “If we co-manifest the lander and clipper, we’re only on SLS,” he said. “It’s still a slow boat, so to speak: you’d still do inner solar system gravity assists.”