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NASA’s Europa Clipper gets its wheels for traveling in deep space

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Engineers attach a two-foot-wide reaction wheel to the body of NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft. The Orbiter is in the stages of assembly, testing and launch operations for launch in 2024. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

A giant spacecraft heading for Jupiter’s moon Europa uses four large reaction wheels to keep it oriented.

Much like NASA’s Mars rover relies on robustness, Wheel Some orbiters also rely on wheels to roam Mars and do science. in this case, reaction wheel—Keep facing the right direction. An engineer and technician at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California recently installed his four reaction wheels on the Europa Clipper during a trip on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.

As NASA’s rover navigates deep space, slips into Jupiter’s orbit, and collects scientific observations as it flies dozens of times on Europa, wheels turn the orbiter, antennas communicate with Earth, and science, including cameras. Allows the equipment to maintain orientation. .

The two-foot-wide, steel, aluminum, and titanium wheels spin at high speed, creating torque that spins the Orbiter in the opposite direction. Isaac Newton’s third law of motion also applies to deep space and explains the underlying phenomena. Reaction wheels make the spacecraft react to the spinning motion of the wheels.

NASA's Europa Clipper gets wheels to navigate deep space

All four reaction wheels on NASA’s Europa Clipper are visible in this photo. This photo was taken from underneath the main body of the spacecraft during assembly. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

Here’s one way to visualize how the reaction wheel works. Imagine you are sitting in a swivel chair, lifting your legs off the floor so that you can rotate freely. Moving the torso in one direction rotates the chair and legs in the opposite direction. Reaction wheels work in the same way. When the reaction wheel motor accelerates the metal wheel in one direction, the spacecraft accelerates in the opposite direction.

Without these reaction wheels, Europa Clipper, which arrived in the Jupiter system in 2030 after its launch in 2024, would not be able to conduct scientific research. Scientists believe Europa has a vast inland sea with suitable conditions to support life. The spacecraft will collect data about the moon’s atmosphere, surface, and interior. This information will help scientists learn more about oceans, ice crusts, and plumes that may be releasing groundwater into space.

NASA's Europa Clipper gets wheels to navigate deep space

Engineers and technicians work together to install reaction wheels on the underside of the body of NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft. It is in the stages of assembly, testing and launch operations. Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

While orbiting Jupiter, Europa Clipper relies on its reaction wheels to perform thousands of revolutions, or “turns.” Spacecraft can use thrusters to perform some of these operations, but those thrusters require fuel. This is a finite resource onboard the orbiter. The reaction wheels are powered by power supplied by the spacecraft’s massive solar array.

The trade-off is that reaction wheels are slower. It takes about 90 minutes for the Europa Clipper’s reaction wheels to rotate the vehicle 180 degrees.of rotate The spacecraft’s speed is three times slower than the minute hand of a clock.

It can also wear out over time. This happened on NASA’s Dawn spacecraft, where engineers had to figure out how to use the thrusters to rotate on the available fuel. To combat this, engineers installed Europa on her Clipper with four wheels, although he only needs three to steer. They alternate which he three wheels are working to even out wear. This leaves him with a “spare” wheel in case one of the other wheels fails.

Wheel installation is one of the latest steps in a phase known as assembly, test and launch operations. Scientific instruments continue to arrive at JPL to be added to the spacecraft. Then various tests are done. spacecraft We are moving toward the October 2024 release date. After traveling 1.8 billion miles (2.9 billion kilometers), Europa Clipper is ready to unlock the secrets of this icy world.

Quote: NASA’s Europa Clipper Gets Wheels to Travel in Deep Space (23 Nov 2022) 23 Nov 2022, https://phys.org/news/2022-11-nasa- europa-clipper-wheels-deep.html

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