NASA has been looking into potential concepts for exploring Europa for a few years, including the design of a possible spacecraft, the Europa Clipper, to fly-by and investigate the moon’s potential for harboring life. But this request for 2016, if it survives negotiations with Congress and makes it into the final federal budget, will double last year’s funding for Europa research and allow NASA to actually formulate and develop a real Europa mission.
“For over 15 years NASA has developed concepts to explore Europa and determine if it is habitable based on characteristics of its vast oceans (twice the size of all of Earth’s oceans combined), the ice surface – ocean interface, the chemical composition of the intriguing, irregular brown surface areas, and the current geologic activity providing energy to the system,” reads the request overview.
Right now it looks as though a solar powered flyby concept similar to the Europa Clipper will be the likely form of the mission, although NASA says its design will be contingent on upcoming research about what seem to be active plumes of some sort near Europa’s south pole, as well as accommodations required by the instruments that will go along for the ride.
NASA’s space technology division also plans to conduct an in-space demonstration of a new Deep Space Atomic Clock that also provides improved gravitational measurements, something that will help a Europa mission understand the make-up of the moon’s surface.