Bridging Vast Distances With Advanced Antenna Technology

Europa Mission Spacecraft Artist's Rendering

NASA’s Europa Clipper acquired a high-gain antenna to spice up its communication for its 2024 mission to check Jupiter’s moon, Europa. With superior devices, the spacecraft goals to offer a deeper understanding of the moon’s potential subsurface ocean and atmosphere. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

The addition of a high-gain antenna will allow the company’s Europa Clipper spacecraft – set to launch in October 2024 – to speak with mission controllers a whole bunch of hundreds of thousands of miles away.

NASA’s Europa Clipper is designed to hunt out situations appropriate for all times on an ice-covered moon of Jupiter. On August 14, the spacecraft acquired a chunk of {hardware} central to that quest: the large dish-shaped high-gain antenna.

Antenna Options and Features

Stretching 10 ft (3 meters) throughout the spacecraft’s physique, the high-gain antenna is the biggest and most outstanding of a collection of antennas on Europa Clipper. The spacecraft will want it because it investigates the ice-cloaked moon that it’s named after, Europa, some 444 million miles (715 million kilometers) from Earth. A significant mission aim is to be taught extra concerning the moon’s subsurface ocean, which could harbor a liveable atmosphere.

Europa Clipper High-Gain Antenna Installed

Engineers and technicians set up Europa Clipper’s high-gain antenna in the primary clear room at JPL.
Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

As soon as the spacecraft reaches Jupiter, the antenna’s radio beam can be narrowly directed towards Earth. Creating that slim, concentrated beam is what high-gain antennas are all about. The identify refers back to the antenna’s means to focus energy, permitting the spacecraft to transmit high-powered indicators again to NASA’s Deep House Community on Earth. That may imply a torrent of science information at a excessive price of transmission.

Set up and Testing

The precision-engineered dish was hooked up to the spacecraft in rigorously choreographed levels over the course of a number of hours in a Spacecraft Meeting Facility bay at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.

“The antenna has efficiently accomplished all of its stand-alone testing,” mentioned Matthew Bray a couple of days earlier than the antenna was put in. “Because the spacecraft completes its remaining testing, radio indicators can be looped again by means of the antenna by way of a particular cap, verifying that the telecom sign paths are practical.”

Based mostly on the Johns Hopkins College Utilized Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, Bray is the designer and lead engineer for the high-gain antenna, which he started engaged on 2014. It’s been fairly a journey for each Bray and the antenna.

Watch as Europa Clipper workforce members elevate and set up the spacecraft’s massive, dish-shaped high-gain antenna in the primary clear room at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Simply over the previous yr, he’s seen the antenna crisscross the nation within the lead-up to the set up. Its means to beam information exactly was examined twice in 2022 at NASA’s Langley Analysis Heart in Hampton, Virginia. Between these two visits, the antenna made a cease at NASA’s Goddard House Flight Heart in Greenbelt, Maryland, for vibration and thermal vacuum testing to see if it might deal with the shaking of launch and the acute temperatures of outer area.

Then it was on to JPL in October 2022 for set up on the spacecraft in preparation for cargo subsequent yr to NASA’s Kennedy House Heart in Florida.

The lengthy journey to Jupiter begins with launch from Kennedy in October 2024.

Europa Clipper Gets Its High-Gain On

Engineers and technicians use a crane to elevate a 10-foot (3-meter) high-gain antenna as they put together to put in it on NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft. The orbiter is being assembled within the clear room of Excessive Bay 1 at JPL in preparation for its October 2024. Credit score: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Europa in Their Sights

Jordan Evans, the Clipper venture supervisor at JPL, emphasised the significance of the high-gain antenna, stating, “The high-gain antenna is a essential piece within the buildup of Europa Clipper. It represents a really seen piece of {hardware} that gives the aptitude that the spacecraft must ship the science information again from Europa. Not solely does it appear like a spacecraft now that it has the large antenna, nevertheless it’s prepared for its upcoming essential exams as we progress in direction of launch.”

The spacecraft will practice 9 science devices on Europa, all producing massive quantities of wealthy information: high-resolution colour and stereo photographs to check its geology and floor; thermal photographs in infrared gentle to search out hotter areas the place water may very well be close to the floor; mirrored infrared gentle to map ices, salts, and organics; and ultraviolet gentle readings to assist decide the make-up of atmospheric gases and floor supplies.

Clipper will bounce ice-penetrating radar off the subsurface ocean to find out its depth, in addition to the thickness of the ice crust above it. A magnetometer will measure the moon’s magnetic area to verify the deep ocean’s existence and the thickness of the ice.

The high-gain antenna will stream most of that information again to Earth over the course of 33 to 52 minutes. The power of the sign and the quantity of knowledge it will possibly ship at one time can be far higher than that of NASA’s Galileo probe, which ended its eight-year Jupiter mission in 2003.

On web site at JPL for the antenna set up was Simmie Berman, the radio frequency module supervisor at APL. Like Bray, she started her work on the antenna in 2014. The radio frequency module contains the spacecraft’s complete telecommunications subsystem and a complete of seven antennas, the high-gain amongst them. Her job throughout set up was to make sure the antenna was correctly mounted to the spacecraft and that the elements are appropriately oriented and effectively built-in.

Whereas the engineers at each APL and JPL have practiced the set up many occasions, just about and with real-world mock-ups, August 14 was the primary time the high-gain antenna was hooked up to the spacecraft.

“I’ve by no means labored on something of this magnitude, when it comes to bodily dimension and in addition when it comes to simply normal curiosity,” she mentioned. “Little youngsters know the place Jupiter is. They know what Europa seems like. It’s supercool to get to work on one thing that has the potential for such a big effect, when it comes to data, for humanity.”

With this monumental step full, Europa Clipper awaits a couple of extra levels of preparation for its upcoming voyage to the outer photo voltaic system.

Extra In regards to the Mission

Europa Clipper’s major science aim is to find out whether or not there are locations beneath Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa, that might assist life. The mission’s three principal science aims are to find out the thickness of the moon’s icy shell and its floor interactions with the ocean beneath, to research its composition, and to characterize its geology. The mission’s detailed exploration of Europa will assist scientists higher perceive the astrobiological potential for liveable worlds past our planet.


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