NASA’s Europa Clipper (HGA) high-gain antenna, which will make nearly 50 flybys of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, was at Langley’s Experimental Test Range (ETR) in March and April, then again in June and July so that researchers can assess its ability to accurately transmit data from the spacecraft to Earth.
Between these Langley visits, the HGA traveled to NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, for vibration and thermal vacuum testing to verify its ability to withstand both launch shake and extreme temperatures in space.
The approximately 3-meter-diameter HGA will transmit information from Europa Clipper’s nine instruments, which will collect data on Europa’s atmosphere, surface and interior. Scientists have strong evidence that Europa is home to a vast ocean of deep groundwater that could support life. In fact, there could be more liquid water on Europa than on Earth, even though it is smaller than our Moon.
“We are at NASA Langley ETR measuring the performance of the HGA, determining the power and shape of the transmit beam, and its precise orientation to help figure out how to point the antenna at Earth,” said Matt Bray, designer. and Senior HGA Engineer at Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland.
The HGA operates on NASA deep space X-band radio frequencies of 7.2 and 8.4 (GHz) and Ka-band of 32 (GHz). Thirty-two GHz is several times higher than the frequency of most mobile phones. This higher frequency will give the Europa Clipper enough bandwidth to send data at high speed. This data will take about 45 minutes to reach Earth from orbit around Jupiter.
The ETR is an electromagnetic test facility that allows researchers to characterize transmitters, receivers, antennas, and other electromagnetic components and subsystems in a controlled environment. Although there are other facilities in the United States that can host similar tests, ETR’s size, accessibility, and availability made it an ideal location for the HGA. A prototype of HGA underwent testing at ETR in 2019.
Operated by Caltech in Pasadena, California, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is leading the development of the Europa Clipper mission in partnership with APL for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. The Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama manages the Europa Clipper mission program.
The Europa Clipper is scheduled to launch in October 2024.
Edition: R. Castro.