ESA – Europa Microprobe

The Jovian Minisat Explorer Technology Reference Study examined the feasibility of a mission to explore the Jovian system.

The mission profile under study focused primarily on the exploration of Europa, the smallest of the four Galilean moons orbiting Jupiter. Europa is one of the few places in the solar system where it is believed that liquid water may be found, making it one of the prime candidates for the search for extra-terrestrial life.

ESA required simulation of the impact of proposed microprobes on the surface of Jupiter’s icy moon, Europa. The object of the study was to investigate the penetration depth, accelerations, and stresses within the probe structure for impact velocities of up to 500 metres per second and subsequently to propose engineering means to protect the instrumentation within the microprobe.

Vorticity adopted several approaches to the problem of simulating the high-speed impact of a spherical metal probe with the ice surface of Europa.  We primarily used the Arbitrary Lagrangian- Eulerian capabilities of the LS-DYNA code but also assessed the Smooth Particle Hydrodynamic methodology. A new model of ice was created as part of the study.  Results for ground penetration matched experimental data well.

Specific recommendations were made to ensure probe structural robustness and to limit the acceleration imposed on the instrumentation package to survivable levels.