Ice Moon of Europa (credit: the Hubble Space Telescope)
Like the clipper ships that explored new worlds in centuries past, NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory are following in that tradition with the Europa Clipper mission. In an adventure suitable for any 'voyage of discovery', the new space endeavor will explore Jupiter's moon Europa to see if the conditions for life exist there. The moon is encased in a crust of water ice indicating a global ocean beneath that is many miles deep. Gravity forces, from Europa's orbit around Jupiter, create tidal stress on the Europa producing cracks allowing material from below to reach the moon's surface. Such geologic forces could also create conditions for undersea volcanoes, similar to hydro-thermal vents on Earth, suitable for life to have evolved there.
According to NASA:
" Europa Clipper will sail past Europa at a rapid spead, as frequently as every two weeks, providing many opportunities to investigate the moon up close. The prime mission plan includes 40-45 flybys, during which the spacecraft will image the moon's icy surface at high resolution, investigate its composition, the structure of the moon's interior, and its icy shell."
Europa Clipper is being planned to launch after 2020, arrive at Jupiter several years voyage, and to go into orbit around the icy moon. Let the discoveries begin!