NASA Tests High Gain Antenna to Study Jupiter’s Moon, Europa

The antenna will form an integral part of the Europa Clipper, a probe mission to one of Jupiter’s moons

A decade ago, mankind shifting base to another planet was a far-fetched, and almost delusional idea. However as Earth’s natural resources are rapidly on the wane, and the planet set on its course to an ultimate demise, scientists and astronomers are at least trying to discern if any other planets or natural satellites, are capable of supporting life, a research which could also shed a light on any other existing lifeforms in the universe. One of Jupiter’s four Galilean moons, Europa, has long been touted to have conditions which could be favorable for sustaining life. NASA have plans to send a probe to the moon after 2022, and they have successfully tested an important equipment, which will play a crucial part in the mission, a High Gain Antenna (HGA).

The HGA will act as the core of the communication process between the unmanned probe and mission control, down on Earth’s surface. Europa lies at a distance of 460 million miles from Earth. A strong communications interface will be required to instruct the device, and derive data from it, at such a vast distance. The experimental setup was tested in NASA’s Experimental Test Range (ETR) at the Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia. The 10 feet long home satellite dish resembling antenna, will have a major role to play in the Europa mission, with the probe estimated to reach the planet at least seven years after lift-off, and the mission is scheduled to be operational for a further three years.

The probe will not be able to directly orbit Europa, as it would involve massive costs for NASA, so it will orbit Jupiter instead, and will make numerous fly-by missions around the moon, as it tries to gather information. Astronomers believe Europa houses a humongous water body underneath its icy exterior, larger than all of Earth’s water bodies combined. It remains to be seen if the probe can verify the theories.

Rina Vidyasagar

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