Hunter Waite has waited years for the chance to use his planetary science engineering chops on a mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa. Now, the director of the space and engineering program at the Southwest Research Institute in San Antonio, Texas, may finally get that chance.
Last week, setting its sights firmly on the outer reaches of our solar system, NASA invited scientists to submit designs for instruments that could ride to Europa on the agency’s proposed Clipper mission. NASA ultimately plans to pick 15 to 20 proposals to receive about $1 million each for further development—making the Clipper competition one of the largest of its kind in 25 years.
But Clipper, which NASA hopes to launch in the 2020s, is still a long way from securing the estimated $2 billion to $3 billion it will need to get off the ground.
Still, NASA’s move has sparked excitement among researchers such as Waite, who has spent half of his adult life on projects associated with the jovian moon. “Most people in the community think we’re way overdue for doing this,” he says. “It has been high on [researchers’] recommendation list for many years. It’s time.”