According to a NASA statement released this week, the agency has released an Announcement of Opportunity to encourage the bringing in outside proposals for scientific instruments that might be installed on a mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Strong evidence exists for the presence of an ocean of liquid water under Europa’s icy surface.
“The possibility of life on Europa is a motivating force for scientists and engineers around the world,” said John Grunsfeld, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “This solicitation will select instrument which may provide a big leap in our search to answer the question: are we alone in the universe?”
The deadline for proposals is Oct. 17. In April 2015, NASA will choose about 20 proposals and provide $25 million to support instrument development in the Phase A concept study. After this initial Phase A, NASA will choose eight instruments to be fabricated for the mission.
The chosen instruments would need to be capable of working on a spacecraft that will either enter orbit or carry out multiple flybys of Europa, thereby satisfying five science objectives that have already been decided upon by the National Resource Council’s Planetary Decadal Survey. These include determining the extent of Europa’s ocean, characterizing the icy shell and subsurface water, characterizing the composition of Europa’s surface, characterizing surface features for future exploration and possible landing sites for future missions, and gathering data on the space and magnetosphere in Europa’s vicinity.
NASA says that the instruments must also be able to function in the extreme radiation environment present around the moon Europa. In addition, particular steps must be taken in order to ensure that the spacecraft does not contaminate Europa’s ocean, one which has the potential of harboring life. NASA stresses that the cost of the instruments must also be within the agency’s less-than $1 billion budget for the mission, a budget which does not include the launch vehicle.