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Highlights

Destination: Europa

The search for life in the solar system beyond Earth gets a boost when NASA’s Europa Clipper mission launches to explore under the icy crust of Jupiter’s moon Europa in 2022. We play critical technical roles on the mission, which NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory leads in partnership with APL, and are contributing two science instruments: the Plasma Instrument for Magnetic Sounding, which scientists will use to determine the thickness of the ice that encases Europa as well as the depth and salinity of its ocean, and the Europa Imaging System, a high-resolution camera that will offer near-global and targeted coverage. NASA has also asked the JPL–APL team to study a Europa Lander concept for launch in 2024.

Targeting an Asteroid

The first-ever mission to demonstrate an asteroid deflection technique for planetary defense—NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART)—moved into the preliminary design phase. Led by APL, DART would be NASA’s first mission to demonstrate what’s known as the kinetic impactor technique that involves striking an asteroid to shift its orbit and deflect it from Earth. DART’s target is the binary asteroid Didymos, which will have distant approaches to Earth in 2022 and 2024.

Beyond Pluto

Two years after NASA’s New Horizons spacecraft left Pluto and its moons in the rearview mirror—and revolutionized humankind’s view of these small, dynamic worlds on the edge of our solar system—the APL-built and -operated probe is speeding deeper into the distant Kuiper Belt toward a flyby of an ancient Kuiper Belt object, named 2014 MU69, on New Year’s Day 2019. When New Horizons flies by it, MU69 will be the most distant object ever explored by a spacecraft, more than a billion miles farther from our sun than Pluto. The team is already doing initial reconnaissance on MU69, using assets such as the Hubble Space Telescope to search for dust and other debris that might be hazardous to the passing spacecraft.

Touching the Sun

NASA’s Parker Solar Probe spacecraft—designed and built at APL—is on track for a summer 2018 launch. Parker Solar Probe will travel closer to the sun than any satellite in history to make detailed observations of the magnetic field, plasma, and accelerated particles in the sun’s corona, finally answering fundamental questions that have plagued scientists for decades—why is the corona hotter than the sun’s surface, and why does solar wind exist? By making these measurements in the region where solar wind is created, and where the most hazardous solar energetic particles are energized, Parker Solar Probe will also improve our ability to characterize and forecast the dynamics of the heliosphere and the resulting effect on Earth’s radiation environment. These effects influence space weather on Earth and in the orbital space where future explorers will live and work.