Most of the news, coming from the trump administration’s NASA budget request, concerns the lunar exploration initiative and the controversy surrounding plans to commercialize the International Space Station. However, according to Space News, the proposal suggests that a fight may also take place over the europa clipper mission, now slated to launch in the mid-2020s. Questions vary from whether the mission should also include a lander, how much the probe will cost when it launches, and what it will launch on.

To land or not to land?

Just as with the 2018 budget request, the Trump NASA funding proposal does not have any money for a Europa lander.

The plan, favored by Rep. John Culberson, R-Texas, the chair of a House subcommittee that funds NASA, is to launch the Europa Clipper which will make multiple flybys of the ice-shrouded Moon Of Jupiter. Then, a year or two later, launch the Europa Lander that will touch down, depending on what its predecessor finds on the surface. By scratching the lander part of the mission, the administration saves a lot of money.

A matter of costs and schedule

The amount of funding that the administration proposes is $264.7 million for the upcoming fiscal year, decreasing to $200 million in 2020 before rising again to $360 million in 2021 through 2023. The Europa Clipper would launch in 2025. Congress is more likely to favor an accelerated schedule that would launch the probe in 2022.

NASA opposes this accelerated time frame.

What rocket to launch it with?

The most significant controversy involves what rocket to launch the Europa Clipper on. Congress currently favors the Space Launch System. The advantage of using the SLS would mean that the probe to Europa could go to Jupiter space directly, eliminating time-consuming gravity assist maneuvers.

The massive, heavy lift rocket, hampered by enormous costs, would now be given something to do.

NASA and the Trump administration prefers a commercial rocket, which would provide enormous cost savings over the SLS. The space agency is looking at the ULA Atlas V as an alternative launch vehicle. The Falcon Heavy is another possibility, but it needs to be certified by NASA for flying science payloads.

The bottom line

The exploration of Europa, an ice-shrouded moon of Jupiter thought to have a subsurface warm water ocean, is one of Culberson’s passion projects. He is likely to take a dim view, as he has in the past, for cutting out the lander and delaying the launch. Will the gentleman from Texas accept using commercial rocket rather than the SLS if it makes it more likely that both desires are satisfied? Stay tuned.