Cubesats for Europa

Categories: Europa Missions News Brief

Artist's concept of CubeSats near Jupiter's moon Europa. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

Artist’s concept of CubeSats near Jupiter’s moon Europa. Image Credit: NASA/JPL

NASA has selected 10 universities that will study how CubeSats could enhance the next mission to Europa. CubeSats are tiny, low-cost satellites that can be designed to collect various types of data. CubeSats could fill any extra payload space, and would be carried along with a larger mission to the Jupiter system, maximizing the amount of science that can be gained from a launch to the outer Solar System.

Stamp-size satellites, developed at Cornell, had a test run aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in 2011. Credit: Cornell University

Stamp-size satellites, developed at Cornell, had a test run aboard the space shuttle Endeavour in 2011. Credit: Cornell University

The new study of CubeSats will be in conjunction with the design of the Europa Clipper concept mission, which could be NASA’s next effort to investigate habitability on the icy moon of Jupiter.

The Universities selected for participation in the study include: Arizona State University, Georgia Tech Research Corporation, Stanford University, The Regents of New Mexico State University, The Regents of the University of Colorado Boulder, The Regents of the University of Michigan Ann Arbor, University of Alaska Fairbanks, University of Southern California, University of Illinois Urbana and the University of Washington.

“Using CubeSats for planetary exploration is just now becoming possible,” said Barry Goldstein, pre-project manager for the Europa Clipper mission concept in a recent press release, “so we want to explore how a future mission to Europa might take advantage of them.”

CubeSats added to the Europa Clipper mission could perform a number of important studies relevant to astrobiology. The tiny satellites might search for landing sites for future missions that would drill through the ice to explore the moon’s subsurface ocean. They could also study conditions above the ice, including materials ejected by plumes on the moon.

It’s not only CubeSats that could provide additional science observations at distant worlds. Even smaller ChipSats are also being studied for inclusion on planetary missions. Another unusual concept from NASA is to use a swarm of ChipSats to gather information about the habitability of Europa. For more information, read:

 Swarm of Tiny Spacecraft to Explore Europa’s Surface with Rapid Response

Draper Laboratory artist concept of the envisioned mission to Jupiter's moon Europa. Credit: Draper Laboratory

Draper Laboratory artist concept of the envisioned mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa. Credit: Draper Laboratory