LOS ANGELES, April 2 (Xinhua) -- A full-scale prototype of the high-gain antenna (HGA) on NASA's Europa Clipper spacecraft is undergoing tests at NASA's Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, according to a NASA release on Monday.
The antenna will take a long journey aboard NASA's Europa Clipper, a spacecraft that will conduct detailed reconnaissance of Jupiter's moon Europa to see whether the icy orb could harbor conditions suitable for life.
Scientists believe there is a massive salty ocean beneath Europa's icy surface. The antenna will beam back high-resolution images and scientific data from Europa Clipper's cameras and science instruments.
The 3-meter-tall full-scale prototype antenna, which is the same height as a standard basketball hoop, is in the Experimental Test Range (ETR) at NASA's Langley Research Center.
Researchers from NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, and Langley are testing the prototype in the ETR, in order to assess its performance and demonstrate the high pointing accuracies required for the Europa Clipper mission.
The ETR is an indoor electromagnetic test facility that allows researchers to characterize transmitters, receivers, antennas and other electromagnetic components and subsystems in a scientifically controlled environment.
"Several years ago we scoured the country to find a facility that was capable of making the difficult measurements that would be required on the HGA and found that the ETR clearly was it,"said Thomas Magner, assistant project manager for Europa Clipper at the Applied Physics Laboratory.
"The measurements that will be performed in the ETR will demonstrate that the Europa Clipper mission can get a large volume of scientific data back to Earth, and ultimately determine the habitability of Europa," Magner said.
Tests on this prototype antenna are scheduled to wrap up soon, according to NASA. Researchers plan to return to the ETR in 2020 to conduct additional tests on Europa Clipper's high-gain antenna flight article.
Europa Clipper plans to launch in the 2020s, with travel time to Jupiter taking three to seven years, depending on the launch vehicle and which planetary alignments can be utilized, according to NASA.