New mass spectrometer for the NASA Europa Clipper mission

(ORDO NEWS) — A new mass spectrometer designed and built by the Southwestern Research Institute (SwRI) has been delivered to NASA‘s Europa Clipper spacecraft.

The Europa Clipper is due to launch in 2024 and is scheduled to arrive in the Jupiter system in 2030. The spacecraft will conduct a detailed scientific study of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

The Planetary Exploration Mass Spectrometer (MASPEX) will be one of nine scientific instruments in the mission’s payload.

MASPEX will analyze gases near Europa to find out the chemical composition of the surface, atmosphere and suspected subsurface ocean.

The instrument will study how Jupiter’s radiation changes Europa’s surface connections, and how its icy surface and subsurface ocean exchange material.

“Building, testing, and delivering this next-generation space-borne mass spectrometer required a huge team effort,” said Steve Persin, MASPEX Project Manager and Program Director, SwRI Space Systems Division. “SwRI has many years of experience in designing and building instruments for space flight.”

SwRI has developed instruments that are on NASA’s New Horizons, Lunar Reconnaissance Orbiter, Juno spacecraft, and the ESA’s JUpiter ICy Moons Explorer mission, which is due to head to Jupiter and its moon Ganymede in 2023.

“We hope to identify and fly through plumes and other sources of gas emerging from cracks in Europa’s icy surface,” said Dr. Christopher Glein of SwRI, MASPEX co-investigator and planetary geochemist.

“We know that microbes on Earth use any molecule that can serve as a food source. MASPEX is going to help Europa Clipper determine if there is anything microbe-friendly, such as organic molecules, that can be sourced from hydrothermal vents at the bottom of the deep ocean.

The data from this exciting mission will give us a much broader view of Europa’s habitability.”

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