Landing on Europa: Science-driven Preparations for Touching an Unknown Surface

Friday, 11 December 2020: 04:28
Marissa Elizabeth Cameron, Kevin P Hand, Cynthia B Phillips, Gregory J Garner, Morgan L Cable, Amy Hofmann, Jennifer E. C. Scully, Tom Nordheim, Emily Klonicki, Eric T Roberts, Lori R Shiraishi and Glenn E Reeves, NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, CA, United States
Harboring potentially habitable environments, Jupiter’s moon Europa has risen to the forefront of planetary exploration. There is a general consensus in the community that under Europa’s geologically young ice shell exists a subsurface ocean, probably in contact with a silicate seafloor -- which may lead to an ocean rich in the elements and energy needed for the existence of life. Landforms on the surface additionally suggest recent or ongoing geologic activity. As NASA moves forward with the exploration of Europa through the upcoming Europa Clipper flagship fly-by mission, efforts are also underway to mature the technologies required for a potential future mission to land and operate on the icy surface. However, current reconnaissance data from the Galileo spacecraft resolves the surface only to length scales of 10s of meters at best, and future reconnaissance from the Europa Clipper spacecraft will resolve the surface to the meter-scale. Thus, technology development efforts are focusing on a robust system capable of navigating unknown lander-scale terrains to safely deliver a payload to the surface to perform surface phase operations, including sample acquisition and analyses. To inform this effort, the Europa Lander team is developing a comprehensive Terrain Specification Document (TSD) that summarizes current knowledge regarding surface characteristics such as thermal and mechanical properties, composition, topography, and environmental context. This information is used to explore the design space and requirements for lander technologies, including capabilities of the autonomous landing system, and interaction with the lander workspace on the surface (e.g., sampling activities). This presentation will summarize the dual science-engineering approach used to develop the structure and content of the Europa Lander TSD, as well as lessons learned for future development of TSDs for Europa and other bodies.