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ASU scientists developing instruments for NASA mission

PHOENIX — Arizona State University scientists are working on instruments that will be on board a future NASA mission to Jupiter’s moon, Europa.

The mission is a follow-up to NASA’S Galileo mission 20 years ago, which led to the discovery that Europa’s surface was a shell of ice.

ASU professor Everett Shock said this new mission could launch in 2022.

“It will be doing what’s called a ‘fly-by,'” he said. “That’s not just once, but multiple passages. It will be going by several times past Europa.”

Scientists using the Hubble Space Telescope have discovered that plumes of water vapor can shoot out more than 100 miles from Europa. Shock said that the instrument that he is working on could learn more information about those plumes.

“It’s an instrument that does (a) chemical analysis of what can be picked up when passing real close to Europa,” he said.

ASU scientists with the university’s School of Earth and Space Exploration are developing nine instruments that will test aspects such as the amount of heat underneath Europa’s icy surface.

“The whole purpose of this mission is to start to test the idea that maybe there could be life on Europa, which has a lot of water,” Shock said.

“It has a lot of ice at the surface, and a lot of liquid water underneath that ice. Europa has everything we think is needed to support life, and so it’s become a prime target.”

The project cost is $4 billion. If all goes well, the spacecraft and its payload are expected to do the first fly-by of Europa sometime in the 2030s.