Europa Landing

Welsh space agency ground crew
Welsh space agency ground crew

If you’re checking back here to see if Dilwyn’s landed on Europa yet, then, no, he hasn’t.  But you’re probably as sick of Europa as we are by now.  Only we can’t do the landing bit until the month end – any month end.  That’s the only way we can be sure we’ll have a sober ground-crew as their money runs out before pay-day.

It’s not that we need a ground-crew though – especially as the action is all ‘up there’.  But they’re the ones who are seen on TV news to cheer at the moment of landing or whenever something goes right.  Or in our case to just cheer anyway.  Then off to the White Lion.

Christmas on board Cymru III

Surface features in the ice on Europa
Surface features in the ice on Europa

While we earth-lubbers were all cracking skip-loads of brazil nuts over the Christmas period, and arguing about what to watch on the telly, our intrepid space crew on board Cymru III were busy carrying out endless  mission duties as they skimmed the very outer edges of Europa’s atmosphere.

Festivities comprised just the briefest pause to exchange presents – Dilywn gave Meg a winalot nugget wrapped in toilet paper, and Megan gave Dilwyn a nasty bite on the arm.  She’s developed a bit of a taste for human flesh after the gout-riddled big-toe excision episode of a couple of weeks ago.

With the space-furniture all moved to a position just aft of the centre of gravity our crew must now choose a suitable landing site.  The photo above shows a position about 53 degrees north of Europa’s equator – which puts it in about the same position as Cerrigydrudion would be if it were on Europa.  Our scientists became very excited when this picture first came back as it appears to show three separate areas where sub-surface oceans seem to have welled up and flowed over the frigid surface before re-freezing. The water table may be close enough to be accessible here.

Tyre print patterns in the ice on Europa
Tyre print patterns in the ice on Europa

As Cyrmu III passed directly overhead, the automatic 110 camera took another picture.  This one we have nick-named the tyre-print on account of it looking just like a car has recently driven through some snow.  The similarities end there though as each of the indentations is about 10km across.  This zoom photo taken from an altitude of 1,870 km.
WASA geologists think it shows a vast plain where tidal forces from Jupiter have affected the relatively thin crust, and refreezing has caused the features shown. Either that or there is some seriously big Europan traffic to watch out for.

Surface feature dubbed the footprint on Europa
Surface feature dubbed the footprint on Europa

We’ve narrowed the potential landing site down to this area we have dubbed “big foot”.  This deep impression into the surface of Europa looks exactly like a human footprint, but is probably impact related in origin. Being about 15 miles long and about 90 Peter Crouch’s deep it should give us closer access to the long suspected sub-surface ocean.

Nearby, and highlighted by the camera’s graticule is another interesting geological feature – which appears to be the very tip of a mountain just poking through the deep crust of snow and ice.  It should be close enough to the landing site for Dilwyn to ride out to and investigate on the space-moped we packed into Cymru III’s boot.

Watch this space…

Gravity assisted landing on Europa

Diagram showing proposed landing manoeuvre on Europa
Diagram showing proposed landing manoeuvre on Europa

During the first few orbits of Europa, highly sensitive spectrographic analysing instruments on board Cymru III detected a tenuous atmosphere comprising molecular oxygen and trace quantities of methane. We had hoped to use this faint remnant of gas for what is known as an atmospheric-assist. This is where we calculate a course which would take Cymru III on a trajectory through these high altitude atoms, such that their friction when combined with the high speed of the craft, create enough aerodynamic drag to degrade the orbit and facilitate a descent to the planet’s surface.

But the number 4 key is still missing on our calculator and we don’t know how to do all that stuff anyway. So our plan is that once Dilwyn spies that their orbit has taken them over the planned landing site he is to quickly move all the on-board space furniture and provisions to the very front of the craft, including himself and Megan. And this should then tip the spaceship forwards, pointing it downwards and initiate plummet phase to the surface many thousands of kilometres below.

Prepare for Europa Encounter

Dilwyn looking wistfully down at the icy surface of Europa
Dilwyn looking wistfully down at the icy surface of Europa

We’re getting excited here at WASA HQ in our bunker shed at our top secret base somewhere near Cerrigydrudion.  Europa is getting closer.  In this latest photo from on board Cymru III Dilwyn is seen poring over the planet’s surface looking for a place to touch down.  It’s clearly pretty cold down there, so the fingerless gloves from Mamgu 5 christmases ago should be in order.  As well as a hat.

Dilwyn has been advised by our scientists that the surface looks to be a highly fractured icy crust, and may turn slushy underfoot.  Mass-spectrographic analysis indicates the long suspected sub-surface ocean on Europa is likely to be closer to the surface than anticipated.  Dilwyn will be taking his fishing rod.  And a spoon.

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