NASA’s Europa Clipper mission is due to launch in October 2024 and head towards Jupiter’s moon Europa, where it will hunt for signs that this icy satellite could be suitable for life.
The spacecraft won’t orbit Europa when it arrives in 2030 – instead, it will loop around Jupiter in a way that will allow it to repeatedly zoom past the moon at distances as close as 25 kilometres from its surface.
“We’re going to get this really comprehensive assessment of what Europa is like,” says Jennifer Scully at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California.
Of the moon’s many mysteries, perhaps the most important is the structure of its internal ocean and whether it could be habitable. While Clipper won’t be able to look for life itself, it will set the stage for future missions that could.