archive: SETI Europa Ocean Discovery Mission

SETI Europa Ocean Discovery Mission

Larry Klaes ( )
Thu, 17 Sep 1998 09:17:17 -0400

While checking out the Los Alamos National Laboratory (LANL)
news item on the device for a possible Europa probe, I came
across the Web site of one Brad Edwards. He is working on
the Europa Ocean Discovery mission, which he describes as

The other interesting project that I have been working on recently is the Europa Ocean Discovery mission. Myself and some of the best scientists in the country just completed a proposal for NASA's Discovery program for solar system exploration (Submitted December 11, 1996). The proposed mission is to go to Europa, one of the large moons of Jupiter, to search for and characterise the liquid water ocean that might exist on this very unique moon. This ocean may be the only liquid water ocean in the solar system besides what is on Earth. The existance of a non-terrestrial water ocean poses some extremely interesting possibilities for life beyond the confines of Earth.

Europa, shown at right, has what appears to be a cracked and dynamic surface covered with water ice and some small amount of other material. Our proposed mission is to go to Europa, enter orbit and map out the surface and interior characteristics of the moon. The mission will be inexpensive as a space mission goes ($150 million plus $61 million for a Delta II launch) but will return a tremendous amount of data and greatly expand our understanding of the solar system.

The mission would launch mid-2002 and arrive at Europa in 2008. After entering low orbit around Europa our spacecraft map the topography, ice thickness and depth of the ocean as well as image the moon's surface. The studies that this mission would complete on a global scale include; 1) mapping the ice thickness with several hundred meter depth resolution to tens of kilometers depth with hundreds of meters spatial resolution, measure the tidal bulge and surface topography to determine the ocean depth, and image the entire moon with 150 meter resolution and 5% of the surface with 15 meter (45 feet) spatial resolution.

We won't be able to definitavely determine if there is life in Europa's ocean with this mission but we will tell if there is an ocean and map out the structure of Europa's ice layers. This is a critical first mission that must be completed before subsequent missions can hope to penetrate Europa's surface, enter her ocean and determine if life does or has existed on Europa.

The site contains an animation of the mission. I have linked his
Web site to our Icepick links page: