"The dust environment around Europa is primarily made up of particles that have been kicked up from the surface of Europa by meteoroid impacts,” he noted. “Therefore, by studying the composition of these dust particles, we are indirectly studying the composition of the surface of Europa."
ERDOS would help answer other open questions. One is the radiation environment on Europa. While harsh, the high-energy particles can lead to the formation of oxygen, carbon dioxide, and other molecules associated with life, Goel said. Further, when ERDOS impacts the surface of Europa at the end of its mission, the crater formed by this event could provide more clues as to how thick Europa's icy surface is.
ERDOS would measure dust by deploying panels from the satellite to serve as impact surfaces. When the dust particles hit these panels, the particles produce an optical flash and a plume of plasma that can be detected by instruments. Radiation is measured using solid-state silicon detectors.
One big limitation for the CubeSat is its expected lifespan in Europa's high radiation environment, and the lack of solar power available. The mission would only last about 20 hours. That said, investigators would expect to make the most of it, using off-the-shelf components that can survive the radiation environment to keep the cost down.
"The ERDOS concept provides an example of how CubeSats can be used to increase the science return despite their limitations in terms of radiation hardness, thermal control, power and propulsion capabilities," Goel added. "These ideas can be easily extended to missions around other objects in the solar system."
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