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NASA plans to launch the Europa Clipper mission to Europa, one of Jupiter’s moons, during a 21-day launch window that opens on October 10, 2024. It will launch from Kennedy Space Center on a SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket.

Clipper will reach Jupiter in 2030 and go into orbit around the planet, swinging by Europa as many as 50 times to conduct detailed studies. Scientists believe a liquid ocean flows beneath Europa’s icy crust and where there’s water, there’s a possibiluty microbial life may exist. While they cannot study the ocean directly, they believe geysers of liquid are occasionally spewed above the surface, leaving residue. The spacecraft will get as close as 25 kilometers (16 miles) to the surface during its swingbys and take readings with its nine instruments and, perhaps, fly through a geyser if the opportunity arises.

Jupiter has a lot of moons. The four largest — Ganymede, Callisto, Io and Europa — were discovered by Galileo in 1610 and are called the Galilean moons. Better telescopes and spacecraft visiting Jupiter have discovered many, many more — 95 at last count.

Four NASA spacecraft were the first to fly past Jupiter in the 1970s: Pioneer 10 and 11, and Voyager 1 and 2.

The first spacecraft to orbit Jupiter was NASA’s Galileo. Launched in 1989, it arrived at Jupiter in 1995 and studied the planet and its moons for 8 years until it was commanded to enter the Jovian atmosphere where it was destroyed so it would not pose a hazard to future spacecraft.

NASA’s Juno spacecraft, launched in 2011, has been orbiting Jupiter since 2016 with a different view — around the poles instead of the equator.

Only NASA spacecraft have visited Jupiter so far, but the European Space Agency launched the Jupiter Icy Moons Explorer (JUICE) in April 2023.  JUICE’s main target is Ganymede, but it will also collect data about Europa and Callisto. Although it launched more than a year before Clipper is scheduled to launch, it won’t reach Jupiter until 2031 because it is taking a different trajectory.


October 10
8:00 am - 11:00 pm