Missions to Europa, past and future





The Possibility of life on Europa


About Europa


Exploring Europa


The Discovery of Europa

Authors and Resources




PIONEER 10 & 11

Pioneer 10 was the first spacecraft to flyby Jupiter in 1973. Pioneer 11 followed it in 1974, and then went on to become the first probe to study Saturn in 1979. The Pioneers were designed to test the ability of spacecraft to survive passage thru the asteroid belt and Jupiter's magnetosphere. The asteroid belt was easy, but they were nearly fried by ions trapped in Jupiter's magnetic field. This information was crucial to the success of the Voyager missions.

Pioneer 11's RTG power supply is dead. Its last communication with Earth was in November 1995. Pioneer 10 is still functioning (barely) but is no longer being tracked regularly due to budget cutbacks. The last data was received from it on 1997 March 31. They are heading off into interstellar space, the first craft ever to do so.


Launched in 1989, the Galileo spacecraft arrived at Jupiter on December 7, 1995, when it fired its main engine for a successful orbit capture around Jupiter. On that day, Galileo's atmospheric probe plunged into Jupiter's atmosphere and relayed information on the structure and composition of the solar system's largest planet. The spacecraft's orbiter will spend the next two years orbiting the giant planet, studying Jupiter and its moons (encountering one moon during each orbit), and returning a steady stream of images and scientific data. After completing its primary mission, Galileo will then begin its two year extended mission called the Galileo Europa Mission. In 1998, the Galileo spacecraft, completed a flyby of Europa and was able to fly within 2,226 miles.




The Galileo Europa Mission (GEM) is a highly focused follow-on to Galileo's Jupiter system exploration and a precursor for future missions to Europa and Io. GEM will conduct a detailed study of Europa over 14 months, then plunge repeatedly through the Io plasma tours to reach volcanic Io.





Icepick: the Europa Ocean Explorer project is an effort to generate a design for a future mission to Jupiter's moon Europa. The spacecraft's mission would explore  organized by the Europa Ice Penetrator Internet Committee (IcePIC), is using Internet resources such as this Web site and a mailing list as collaborative tools to bring together project participants from around the world in a variety of disciplines.



Europa Orbiter is a spacecraft planned for launch in 2008 that would begin orbiting Jupiter in mid-2010, begin orbiting Europa in late 2011, and conduct a 30-day primary mission while orbiting Europa about 300 times. The mission's main goals are to determine the presence or absence of a subsurface ocean at Europa; to characterize the three-dimensional distribution of any subsurface liquid water and its overlying ice layers; and to understand the formation of surface features, including sites of recent or current activity, and identify candidate landing sites for future lander missions.


This mission will include roughly a car sized craft that would land on Europa’s surface. This lander would carry instruments of its own and equipment to communicate back to earth, as well as a subsurface probe. The craft would land and deploy on or more probes. Each probe would melt through the ice, and sink to the ocean floor. The probe would then drop a sonic receiver to communicate with the lander on the surface. The probes will closely observe the ocean floor, then rise above the floor and start a one-way journey, making observations, taking sample, and searching for thermal vents or hot spots.


Pioneer 10 and 11


Europa Ocean Explorer (Icepick)


Europa Orbiter

Europa Lander