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CU Boulder contributes space hardware to NASA’s trip to Jupiter’s moons

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Glenn Asakawa
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NASA/CU Boulder
An engineer makes an electrical connection to the sensor head for Europa Clipper’s dust analyzer.

A NASA mission will take off next fall to study one of Jupiter’s moons for signs of life, and an instrument developed at CU Boulder will be going along for the ride.

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NASA/LASP/CU Boulder
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The instrument sensor head for Europa Clipper’s dust analyzer is seen in a clean room during the installation of multi-layer insulation prior to thermal balancing testing. (Credit:

It’s called a surface dust analyzer. It looks like a little tube, no bigger than a plastic bucket made out of gold and nicer than anything even the finest jeweler has to offer.

A cloud of particles continuously crashes into and off of Europa, one of Jupiter's many moons. The tube's job is to collect those particles without getting smashed by space debris.

090222_SUDA_workingteam8GA.jpg
Glenn Asakawa
/
NASA/CU Boulder
An engineer configures the sensor head for Europa Clipper’s dust analyzer for magnetics testing.

It's a six-year journey to Europa, so this little tube has only one shot to get it right.

Engineer and test lead Sally Haselschwardt has been working on the project since 2018. She says special technology at CU Boulder helped test the instrument before sending it off into space.

"A really cool test that we do that you can't really do in many other places is that we have a dust accelerator. That's a facility that's really, really special,” Haselschward said.

The accelerator launches dust at the tube at super high velocities to make sure it's ready for primetime. This summer, the instrument passed its final dust test.

Next, it will be shipped off to be integrated into NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft in preparation for its October 2024 launch.

The gold tube isn’t the only thing headed to Jupiter. Because the instrument was designed and built at CU Boulder, Ralphie the buffalo mascot is engraved onto it.

I’m a reporting fellow visiting from National Public Radio. I work on newscast, covering breaking news and important stories affecting communities in the Front Range.