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This is NASA’s ridiculous new plan for harvesting samples from Jupiter’s moon

Published Mar 27th, 2017 5:43PM EDT
europa mission
Image: ESA

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Space junkies really, really want to see what’s going on over on Jupiter’s moon, Europa. It’s a relatively small sphere compared to its host planet, and it’s even smaller than Earth’s moon, but it’s absolutely packed with liquid water and that makes it an extremely interesting place. Now, researchers have a solid plan for seeing Europa first-hand, and even bringing some samples from the alien world home to Earth for further study.

This isn’t the first time NASA has spitballed a plan for sending a lander to Europa. In fact, in February the organization laid out an extensive outline for doing just that. Unfortunately, the Trump administration’s budget plans have put a damper on that idea, but the admittedly modest NASA cutbacks weren’t nearly as bad some had feared they might be, and one particularly small-scale excursion to Europa could still see the light of day anyway.

It’s called NIMPH, which stands for Nano Icy Moons Propellant Harvester, but that name doesn’t exactly convey exactly how interesting the lander concept really is. It’s essentially a tiny robot which will travel to Europa on board a module launched from Earth. When it arrives, the pint-sized lander will break free from its module, cruise down to Europa’s icy surface, perform its sample collection duties, and then harvest propellant which it will use to fly itself back to Earth.

It’s an extremely innovative concept, if a bit wild, and it’s a lot cheaper than the Europa lander mission NASA had mapped out earlier, making it a better fit in a tight budget. The NIMPH plan is far from a done deal, but it certainly seems like a viable possibility.