NASA Mission to Jupiter's Moon Edges Closer

A new mosaic made from images taken by NASA's Galileo spacecraft in the late 1990's is shown of the surface of Jupiter's icy moon, Europa, as it looms large in this newly-reprocessed, higher resolution color view in this handout provided by NASA November 24, 2014. NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institue/Handout via Reuters

NASA scientists have revealed that they are one step closer to launching a mission to Jupiter's icy moon, Europa, thanks to a budget boost from the White House.

Although President Barack Obama has already proposed a $18.5 billion budget for the space agency in the new fiscal year of 2016, yesterday NASA's chief financial officer called for an extra $30 million to begin preliminary work into a mission to Europa.

Scientists at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena, California have been working on concepts for a mission to Jupiter's moon for 15 years, but up until now the proposed programs have not been quite right in terms of the size or costing.

According to JPL senior research scientist Robert Pappalardo, the new concept which is called 'Europa Clipper' is "just right", and preliminary studies are anticipated to being on 1st October, as long as the budget is confirmed.

The Clipper study aims to conduct detailed studies of the moon by using a spacecraft orbiting Jupiter to make 45 flybys over Europa's surface over the course of three years.

Although Europa is covered by a thick icy surface, scientists believe beneath this lies a sub-surface ocean carrying three times the volume of water that make up Earth's oceans. Scientists predict that the surface maintains its liquid state through tidal interactions with the gaseous planet Jupiter, a so-called 'gas giant'.

"The way we framed the Europa mission science objectives is not to specifically look for life, but to understand habitability; the ingredients for life," Kevin Hand, JPL's deputy chief scientist for solar system exploration said at a press event in California yesterday.

According to Hand: "Europa's ocean, to the best of our knowledge, isn't that harsh of an environment". Although estimates for how deep this ocean is range from 6.8 miles to a rather more impressive 62 miles, the mere presence of water indicates the potential for life.