Washington, March 10: NASA has announced that its upcoming mission to explore the habitability of Jupiter's icy moon Europa will be officially called Europa Clipper.
The mission is being planned for launch in the 2020s, arriving in the Jupiter system after a journey of several years, NASA said in a statement on Friday.
Europa has long been a high priority for exploration because it holds a salty liquid water ocean beneath its icy crust.
The ultimate aim of Europa Clipper is to determine if Europa is habitable, possessing all three of the ingredients necessary for life -- liquid water, chemical ingredients, and energy sources sufficient to enable biology, the US space agency said.
Previously, when the mission was still in the conceptual phase, it was sometimes informally called Europa Clipper, but NASA has now adopted that name as the formal title for the mission.
Grace and swiftness
The moniker harkens back to the clipper ships that sailed across the oceans of Earth in the 19th century.
Clipper ships were streamlined, three-masted sailing vessels renowned for their grace and swiftness.
This artist's rendering shows NASA's Europa mission spacecraft, which is being developed for a launch sometime in the 2020s. Photo credit: NASA
A rapid credence
These ships rapidly shuttled tea and other goods back and forth across the Atlantic Ocean and around globe.
In the grand tradition of these classic ships, the Europa Clipper spacecraft would sail past Europa at a rapid cadence, as frequently as every two weeks, providing many opportunities to investigate the moon up close.
NASA's Europa Clipper mission is being designed to fly by the icy Jovian moon multiple times and investigate whether it possesses the ingredients necessary for life. Photo credit: NASA
Challenging radiation environment
"During each orbit, the spacecraft spends only a short time within the challenging radiation environment near Europa. It speeds past, gathers a huge amount of science data, then sails on out of there," said Robert Pappalardo, Europa Clipper project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
The moon’s icy surface
The prime mission plan includes 40 to 45 flybys, during which the spacecraft would image the moon's icy surface at high resolution and investigate its composition and the structure of its interior and icy shell.
An icy moon ascending above Jupiter's cloud tops. Photo credit: NASA