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Imagining a mission to Jupiter's moon Europa

We are now, theoretically, one step closer to landing a robot on a Jupiter's moon Europa. There are no actual missions in the works, or in NASA's budget, but a study published in the journal Astrobiology spells out the needs and goals of a robotic lander mission on the potentially life-supporting moon.

The first element of the mission would be to understand the composition and chemistry of the moon's subsurface ocean. Investigating the thickness of Europa's ice shell, and what lies beneath, are also important.

"There is still a lot of preparation that is needed before we could land on Europa, but studies like these will help us focus on the technologies required to get us there, and on the data needed to help us scout out possible landing locations," lead author Robert Pappalardo said in a statement. Pappalardo works with NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif.

Based on current understanding of the surface composition, the researchers recommended a payload comprising two spectrometers, three imaging tools, a megnetometer, and a multiband seismometer system.

The 1,900-mile-wide moon is considered one of the most likely candidates for supporting extra-terrestrial life. The European Space Agency's Jupiter Icy moons Explorer (JUICE) mission plans to launch an explorer probe towards Jupiter in 2022. While the probe's three-year mission would return valuable information about Jupiter and its moon Callisto, Ganymede and Europa, it would not include a landing mission.

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