What Will Europa Clipper Do?

NASA's Europa Clipper spacecraft will perform dozens of close flybys of Jupiter’s moon Europa, gathering detailed measurements to investigate whether the moon could have conditions suitable for life. Europa Clipper is not a life detection mission – its main science goal is to determine whether there are places below Europa’s surface that could support life.

The spacecraft, in orbit around Jupiter, will make nearly 50 flybys of Europa at closest-approach altitudes as low as 16 miles (25 kilometers) above the surface, soaring over a different location during each flyby to scan nearly the entire moon.

FAQ: How long will the trip to Europa take?

Europa Clipper will launch in October 2024 and will follow a Mars-Earth Gravity Assist (MEGA) trajectory. The spacecraft will travel for five and half years and arrive at Jupiter in April 2030.

Europa Clipper MEGA Trajectory
Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Spacecraft Design

NASA’s Largest Planetary Mission Spacecraft

With its massive solar arrays and radar antennas, Europa Clipper will be the largest spacecraft NASA has ever developed for a planetary mission. The spacecraft needs large solar arrays to collect enough light for its power needs as it operates in the Jupiter system, which is more than five times as far from the Sun as Earth. The spacecraft will be about 16 feet (5 meters) in height. With its arrays deployed, the spacecraft spans more than 100 feet (30.5 meters) and has a dry mass (no propellant in the tanks) of 7,145 pounds (3,241 kg).

Designed for Jupiter’s Tough Radiation Environment

Because Europa is bathed in radiation trapped in Jupiter's magnetic field, Europa Clipper's payload and other electronics will be enclosed in a thick-walled vault. This strategy of armoring up to go to Jupiter with a radiation vault was developed and successfully used for the first time by NASA’s Juno spacecraft. The vault walls – made of titanium and aluminum – will act as a radiation shield against most of the high-energy atomic particles, dramatically slowing down degradation of the spacecraft's electronics.

Go farther: Explore an interactive model of the spacecraft ›

Life Beyond Earth

Europa shows strong evidence for an ocean of liquid water beneath its icy crust. Beyond Earth, Europa is considered one of the most promising places where we might find currently habitable environments in our solar system. Europa Clipper will determine whether there are places below Europa’s surface that could support life.

The spacecraft's payload will include cameras and spectrometers to produce high-resolution images and composition maps of Europa's surface and thin atmosphere, an ice-penetrating radar to search for subsurface water, and a magnetometer and gravity measurements to unlock clues about its ocean and deep interior. The spacecraft will also carry a thermal instrument to pinpoint locations of warmer ice and perhaps recent eruptions of water, and instruments to measure the composition of tiny particles in the moon's thin atmosphere and surrounding space environment.

Go farther: Learn about Europa Clipper’s science goals ›

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