View Full Version : Discussion: NASA Awards Jupiter Icy Moons Mission

2004-Sep-21, 05:13 PM
SUMMARY: NASA has chosen Northrop Grumman Space Technology to build its upcoming Prometheus Jupiter Icy Moons Orbiter (JIMO) spacecraft, and awarded them a $400 million contract to cover costs up to 2008. JIMO will use a nuclear-powered ion engine to go into orbit around each of Jupiter's icy moons: Callisto, Ganymede, and Europa. Once in orbit, the spacecraft would be able to examine each of the moons in great detail with a suite of instruments to try and understand their composition, history, and if there could be conditions for life.

What do you think about this story? Post your comments below.

2004-Sep-21, 06:01 PM
This mission is fairly important scientifically. It should report some very interesting details about Europa, including more about whether the brown stains on the surface are remnants of life from an under-ice ocean.

More importantly, this mission is a test for technology. The Prometheus platform will be, by far, the most powerful energy sustained source we've put into space. There is a reasonable chance that this will be a testbed, and small prototype for the kinds of drive systems that will be used in a few decades for manned spaceflight to Mars and beyond.

I'm also looking forward to the various solar-sail type missions, as they offer the other main path of future propulsion.

John L
2004-Sep-21, 06:55 PM
Ditto on the propulsion system. I think this is a big step to making manned exploration possible. The key problem is power, and this will demonstrate a system with the power needed to support manned missions.

I don't think solar sails will ever make it, though. I think M2P2 is more likely as it does the same thing without actually having to build the huge sail.

2004-Sep-21, 08:00 PM
I remember being a nut about space in the fourth grade and was an avid reader of Science Digest and Science and Mechanics and a pile of things SciFi. Our teacher wanted a solar system decoration across the back of the classroom. I got permission to insert a couple of space ships onto the scene. They looked like this way back in the early 1960's: nuclear powered with ion propulsion, a big boom to reduce the needed shielding by holding the crew at a safe distance, and with the wings. I first learned something about the sport of fencing (sword play, not cattle containment) from that, in that the small circular cup of the long, thin swords that looked so stupid on those black and white Errol Flynn movies was called a shield. Held at arms-length you (supposedly) don't need a big flat sheet of metal if you could deftly position that little protective cup in the way of the other guy's on-coming sword. Likewise, a small shield provides a blocking cone of space where the undiffused and straight-flying radiation from the reactor won't be traveling. Let the simple geometry determine how far away, and how big the cone was at that distance, to figure the size of your crew or payload compartment. The wings were variously reported by the visionaries of the day to either be solar cell arrays (if there were problems with nuclear power in space) or radiator fins to dump the waste heat from the reactor. So now we are almost there, to something science fiction and space illustrators imagined over 40 years ago. Aint progress grand?

Darth Maestro
2004-Sep-22, 05:56 AM
Since we haven't seen another solar body with actual water on it(or possibly in it -- Europa) up close, I think this is a very exciting project. Europa is captivating. Does anybody know enough about Europa to inform me of what we are expecting to find there? More precisely, what type of life we assume could have evolved given what we know of Europa's conditions.

2004-Sep-22, 07:36 AM
Darth, I remember watching a program about the kind of life they would expect to find on Europa. They are expecting to find an ocean under the icy surface. They belive Europa's core to have vents going up into the ocean as our Earth does. There are certain kinds of life form which thrive in these extreamly hot sulpher conditions beneath our oceans and they are thinking Europa will be very similar. The kind of life deep in the ocean around these volcanic vents are like these huge algae plant things. That is the kind of thing they expect to find. They will be sending a probe that will land on Europa, make a hole in the ice and will be sent down into the ocean to search for these vents. I don't think this is the trip where this will be happening but if they do find an ocean under the ice, then Im sure that will happen. I did see this on BBC series called Space which was very interesting. You should see if you can get it from somewhere.

2004-Sep-22, 07:39 AM
The above reply was done by Eyeinthesky77. I stupidly forgot to log myself in!!!!! :lol:

Hope it helps Darth.


2004-Sep-22, 01:16 PM
Darth, have a look at this site....


It says a bit on there about what they will look for on Europa.


Darth Maestro
2004-Sep-23, 07:06 AM
Thanks Eye,
I have seen the BBC documentaries -- SPACE, The Planets, The Blue Planet, Ascent of man, Hitchikers Guide to the Galaxy.... I like them all. Liked the link.


2004-Sep-23, 04:21 PM
While I am enchanted by space, and appreciate the process that increases that body of knowledge, the word Nuclear scares me. I see the new icy moon orbiter will be nuclear powered. Does any one know what would happen to Florida (etc) if a nuclear powered mission suffered a CHallenger like explosion and breakup?


2004-Sep-23, 04:59 PM
Probably nothing. They don't even activate these reactors till they are in orbit. The modules that contain the fuel are supposed to be armored and pretty tough. Even assuming the fuel escaped, powdered, and blew around in the wind, you're talking about what, 100kg or so? If it blows up on the pad, just move the people away from the site until it dissipates into the parts per million range. If there are solid fragments, send in a cleanup crew. I'm not even sure it is that radioactive before reactor activation.

If we don't get over this fear, then we will never have the needed power to explore further out into space, much less send people on colony missions.

PS, the protests against the Cassini mission were absolutely nuts. There was only six pounds of plutonium on that thing. If the whole stinking reactor landed intact on my porch, and I neglected to eat any of it, I would probably be fine if I stayed away and called authorities to pick it up. 100s of thousands of deaths? That is merely more irrational fear-mongering.