Jupiter’s icy moon Europa displays many signs of activity, including its fractured crust and a dearth of impact craters. Scientists continue to hunt for confirmation of plume activity.
Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute

NASA’s Office of Inspector General (OIG) reports today about the space agency’s intent to study a Jupiter moon – Europa – and issues regarding the management of that mission.

A flyby orbiter known as Europa Clipper, “despite robust early-stage funding, a series of significant developmental and personnel resource challenges place the Clipper’s current mission cost estimates and planned 2023 target launch at risk,” explains the OIG report.

Europan environments that may harbor life or preserve biosignature. A variety of geologic
and geophysical processes, including ocean currents governed by tides, rotation, and heat exchange, are
required to drive water from the subsurface to the surface and govern how any exchange operates.
SOURCE: Kevin Hand, Jet Propulsion Laboratory, “On the Habitability of Ocean Worlds,” presentation
to the Workshop on Searching for Life across Space and Time, December 5, 2016.

Suitable to sustain life

Scientists believe that Europa, one of Jupiter’s 79 known moons, may have a large liquid ocean below its icy surface suitable to sustain life. The National Research Council (NRC)—which publishes a decadal survey of recommended priorities that NASA uses to help plan its science exploration missions—determined in 2011 that an orbiter mission to Europa should be NASA’s second highest priority large-scale planetary science mission after the Mars 2020 rover mission.

Congress has taken a strong interest in the project and since fiscal year (FY) 2013 has appropriated about $2.04 billion to NASA for a Europa mission—$1.26 billion more than the Agency requested.

Now former Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) examining a Europa lander model during a visit to NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Credit – NASA/JPL-Caltech via AIP

Long-time advocate

The former Chairman of the House subcommittee that funds NASA is now gone — Rep. John Culberson (R-TX) — a long-time advocate for NASA and the Europa mission in particular, was largely responsible for these substantial appropriations.

Congress also directed NASA to plan two separate missions: a flyby orbiter known as Europa Clipper and a Lander mission to place scientific instruments on the moon’s surface.

In FYs 2017 and 2018, Congress directed NASA to use the Space Launch System (SLS), the Agency’s heavy-lift rocket currently under development, as the launch vehicle for both missions and specified launch dates of no later than 2022 for the orbiter and 2024 for the Lander.

In February 2019, Congress delayed those launch dates by a year to 2023 and 2025, respectively.

Europa lander
Credit: NASA/JPL

Achieving technical objectives

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has overall project management responsibilities for both missions.

In the newly released OIG audit, NASA’s management of the Europa mission relative to achieving technical objectives, meeting milestones, controlling costs, and addressing congressional requirements was reviewed.

Go to the report — Management of NASA’s Europa Mission – at:

https://oig.nasa.gov/docs/IG-19-019.pdf

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