No Antenna Could Survive Europa’s Brutal, Radioactive Environment—Until Now

To explore Jupiter’s moon for signs of life, JPL developed a brand new, all-metal design

11 min read

There's no planned mission to send a lander to Europa, but this artist's rendition gives a sense of what one such lander might look like, including the new antenna design necessary for staying in touch with Earth.

Marek Denko/Noemotion

Europa, one of Jupiter's Galilean moons, has twice as much liquid water as Earth's oceans, if not more. An ocean estimated to be anywhere from 40 to 100 miles (60 to 150 kilometers) deep spans the entire moon, locked beneath an icy surface over a dozen kilometers thick. The only direct evidence for this ocean is the plumes of water that occasionally erupt through cracks in the ice, jetting as high as 200 km above the surface.

The endless, sunless, roiling ocean of Europa might sound astoundingly bleak. Yet it's one of the most promising candidates for finding extraterrestrial life. Designing a robotic lander that can survive such harsh conditions will require rethinking all of its systems to some extent, including arguably its most important: communications. After all, even if the rest of the lander works flawlessly, if the radio or antenna breaks, the lander is lost forever.

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