Deep-space missions are usually a one-way trip, and that’s valid for NASA’s new Europa Clipper mission. After evaluating the potential habitability of the icy Jovian moon, it will probably end up in an intentional crash.
However, rather than dropping into Jupiter as previously intended, the spacecraft may now strike into Ganymede or Callisto. These are two of Jupiter’s Galilean moons. Europa Clipper mission project scientist Bob Pappalardo announced this at the Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG) conference on June 15th.
“The disposal target … had been Jupiter, but it saves propellant; it’s more efficient if we go into either Ganymede or Callisto instead as our disposal target,” Pappalardo announced during the meeting.
Amongst the two moons, Ganymede, the giant moon in the solar system, is the first guess because of its potential scientific implications. “Impacting Ganymede instead of Callisto — or, for that matter, Jupiter — has the added benefit of the potential for synergistic science with JUICE,” Pappalardo explained, referring to the European Space Agency’s Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer mission, which is planned to launch in 2023. The mission will examine all three icy Galilean moons, and Ganymede will be its major target.
“If the JUICE mission is still in orbit of Ganymede at the time of Clipper disposal, there is the potential for JUICE instruments to watch that impact and learn about properties of Ganymede that way,” Pappalardo explained.