Status: Under Study

Planned launch date: 2004 or later

Projected Mission Summary: The Europa Orbiter mission, if undertaken, will send a spacecraft to study the Jovian moon to measure the thickness of surface ice and to detect an underlying liquid ocean, if it exists. If launched, the spacecraft is expected to reach Jupiter by 2007.

Europa has long been the center of much interest because it is possible that, should a liquid ocean actually exist beneath its icy crust, life could possibly exist near volcanic thermal vents.

The orbiter would use a radar sounder to bounce radio waves through the ice to detect an ice-water interface, which may exist around 1 kilometer below the surface. This mission would be a precursor to sending "hydrobots" or remote controlled submarines that would melt through the ice and explore the undersea realm.

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