NASA’s Next Deep Space Mission Won’t Use Artificial Intelligence

The Europa Clipper is being prepped for a five-year mission to Europa, one of many moons orbiting the planet Jupiter, and on a sunny Thursday morning in Pasadena, Calif., NASA and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) invited Decrypt and different members of the media to get an up-close view.

Whereas there’s loads of cutting-edge tech being loaded onto the spacecraft, nevertheless, no AI chatbots will likely be aboard.

The Clipper mission

Launching in October, the Europa Clipper will research the Galilean moon Europa by a sequence of flybys in orbit round Jupiter. The Europa Clipper’s mission is engineered to doc the Jovian moon and assess its habitability. It should conduct detailed reconnaissance, research the icy floor and subsurface ocean, seek for indicators of life, and analyze the moon’s composition and geology.

The media day started on the NASA/JPL customer heart, the place we checked in with safety, issued our badges, and met with our guides.

(Picture: Jason Nelson/Decrypt)

Boarding a tour bus, we headed to the constructing the place the Europa Clipper was housed and started coming into “the clear room.”

Assembly the Europa Clipper

On the brink of enter the Europa Clipper warehouse was an fascinating expertise. First, we have been instructed to stroll throughout an adhesive mat that might take away any grime or lingering particles from our sneakers.

After cleansing our sneakers, we turned over all gear we deliberate to take into the warehouse to be cleaned earlier than the gear was returned to us. Subsequent, we have been taken right into a room stuffed with robes and protecting gear to swimsuit up.

(Picture: Jason Nelson/Decrypt)

After suiting up, the final step earlier than coming into the clear room was to take an air bathe to provide us a final once-over to take away any mud or particles. As we entered the warehouse the place the Europa Clipper was housed, the very first thing I seen was how massive the room was.

“We’ll want each inch of this area when the entire items to the Europa Clipper are put into place, and it’s time to maneuver the unit out,” a member of the standard assurance group instructed Decrypt, pointing to the excessive ceiling.

(Picture: Jason Nelson/Decrypt)

The way it’s made

My first impression of the Europa Clipper was how delicate it appeared, however the group of engineers instructed me that the orbiter is constructed to take a punch.

(Picture: Jason Nelson/Decrypt)

“We deal with it delicately, after which we take it to a shaker that simulates the launch situation and shakes the craft actually exhausting,” JPL Harness Engineer Luis Aguila instructed Decrypt. “That makes certain that every part is safe, nothing’s going to interrupt alongside the best way, after which we check it once more after that,” he mentioned, noting that the group carried out the vibration testing earlier this 12 months.

Aguila additionally famous that the entire weight of the Europa Clipper tops 13,000 kilos.

In accordance with Europa Clipper Challenge Supervisor Jordan Evans, the form and design are intentional and serve a number of functions.

“The form is pushed by a wide range of issues: it has to suit contained in the rocket, and the rocket solely has a five-meter diameter (roughly 16.4 ft), so every part—together with the photo voltaic arrays—have to suit,” Evans instructed Decrypt. “Then, as we do every flyby, totally different science devices have to look down on the floor of the moon.”

Evans defined that some devices are positioned to face the course the craft is flying as a result of they’re designed to research the moon’s environment. Different devices must be remoted from the spacecraft to keep away from interference. Evans emphasised that every instrument has particular necessities that should be built-in into the Europa Clipper’s design.

The design of the Europa Clipper, Evans mentioned, includes a fancy technique of balancing these necessities to make sure that one doesn’t negatively influence one other, resulting in the ultimate design of the spacecraft.

Getting the info that Europa Clipper collects again to Earth takes a three-meter (roughly 9.84 ft) excessive acquire antenna mounted on prime of the spacecraft.

(Picture: NASA/JPL)

“That goes to the Deep Area Community, which can also be run by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory,” Evans mentioned. “So regardless of the place Jupiter and Europa Clipper are relative to Earth, one of many floor stations across the Earth has a direct line of sight to the spacecraft,” he mentioned, including that the craft is ready to ship the info by the big antenna again to these on the bottom.

AI and area exploration

Synthetic intelligence (AI) has performed a major function in latest area exploration endeavors. In October, a gaggle of scientists and astronomers from Northwestern College reported utilizing AI to establish and classify supernovae in real-time.

Whereas synthetic intelligence is enjoying a rising function in area exploration and NASA/JPL tasks, Evans mentioned Europa Clipper doesn’t use AI in any significant method.

“It does not—you possibly can consider it extra like an ordinary laptop,” added Tracy Drain, the Flight Techniques Engineer. “There’s software program that runs on board the place issues are totally programmed in to inform it what to do.”

Every little thing the spacecraft must function should be on board since accessing the cloud on Earth would imply a 52-minute delay every method.

After visiting the Europa Clipper and going by the method of taking off the entire protecting gear, we took a shuttle bus to the von Kármán auditorium to be taught extra concerning the facility and the mission.

Excessive-tech historical past

(Bust of Theodore von Kármán within the foyer of the von Kármán auditorium) (Picture: Jason Nelson/Decrypt)

Based in 1943, JPL traces its historical past again to the Nineteen Thirties with the work of a gaggle of California Institute of Expertise (Caltech) college students, academics, and fans dubbed the “Suicide Squad” by their friends. The Suicide Squad included American aeronautical engineer Frank Malina, Hungarian aerospace engineer Theodore von Kármán, and rocket scientist, chemist, and occultist John Whiteside “Jack” Parsons.

(Suicide Squad Members from left to proper: Fred S. Miller, Jack Parsons, Ed Forman, Frank Malina) (Picture: NASA/JPL)

In December 1958, JPL was folded into the newly based NASA.

After visiting the Europa Clipper and going by the method of taking off the entire protecting gear, we took a shuttle bus to the von Kármán auditorium. The area was lined with posters and shows from NASA/JPL missions previous and current, together with Voyager, Cassini, and, after all, the Europa Clipper.

(Picture: Jason Nelson/Decrypt)

Look, do not contact

“The principle objective is to seek for an surroundings that might assist life, not a life detection mission,” JPL Deputy Challenge Scientist Bonnie Buratti instructed Decrypt. “We’re searching for an surroundings the place life might type and be sustained.”

Whereas the floor of Europa seems to be lined in ice, Buratti mentioned, in contrast to the ice world within the 2014 Christopher Nolan movie, “Interstellar,” it’s unclear if the moon’s floor is secure to land or stroll on.

As Buratti defined, proof suggests seen sediment deposits, presumably plume deposits, forming a fragile floor. These distinct layers would possibly conceal crevasse that might be fallen into that remaining hidden.

“One of many issues that we will search for is exercise as a result of in the event you have a look at that image of Europa, it seems like there are usually not quite a lot of craters on it,” Buratti mentioned. “There was lively geology within the final not less than 50 million years, which is a blink of an eye fixed in geologic time.”

As Buratti defined, if the Europa Clipper does uncover indicators of life on the moon, it’s not a name for concern however for extra exploration, acknowledging that touchdown on the lunar floor shouldn’t be an possibility right now.

“Proper now, NASA doesn’t plan to land on Europa,” Burrata mentioned. “But when we did discover something that was suggestive of life, once more, it is not a mission to search for that we’re searching for environments that might maintain life; I feel NASA would most likely plan to ship [another mission] there.”


Visiting the Jet Propulsion Laboratory was an incredible expertise, and for a life-long fan of area exploration and historical past, it was like Christmas had come early. When requested how a scholar in center faculty or highschool who’s keen on science and area might get a job at JPL, Drain mentioned the door was open to everybody.

“My favourite factor to inform youngsters is that you do not have to be an engineer or a scientist to do this type of work,” Drain mentioned, emphasizing crucial pondering as a key ability. “In case you are keen on arts, journalism, laptop science, and finance, there are such a lot of methods that you would be able to find yourself working right here doing issues which are associated to area.”

Edited by Ryan Ozawa.

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