The University of Trento is again at the forefront in the engineering of a radar for space missions.
REASON (Radar for Europa Assessment and Sounding: Ocean to Near-surface) is indeed among the scientific tools selected by NASA for the mission to be launched in 2020 to explore Jupiter icy moon Europa. The radar was chosen after a long selection process and a very selective competition.
REASON was studied and engineered by an American research team with the colleagues of the DISI - Department of Information engineering and science - precisely the Remote Sensing Laboratory, coordinated by Lorenzo Bruzzone, Professor at DISI. It will be now be developed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Institute of Technology, close to Pasadena, with the supervision of the American Professor Donald Blankenship, with the participation of Professor Bruzzone and his team.
The NASA mission, supported by the USA Congress, aims at exploring the Europa icy moon, one of the celestial bodies of the most external part of the solar system, which is more likely to host hidden elementary forms of life.
Bruzzone explained that “Europa is a moon made of an icy crust with a yet unknown thickness - between some kilometres and some tens of kilometres - with an ocean which, according to estimates, may contain double the quantity of water of the Earth. The abundance of water and salts, the existence of a rocky bottom and the energy provided by the sea tides lead scientists consider Europa one of the best locations in the solar system, after the Earth, to host living beings”.
The radar will be one of the most significant tools of the mission: it will be used to study the underground geology of Europa.
“We engineered the Ice Penetrating Radar, which is a radar capable to view images of the underground structure, thanks to the analysis of the radio wave reflection caused by the underground structures and using algorithms for the signal processing. It can penetrate the soil down to 30 km, yet guarantee a high definition of details”.
NASA opted for REASON after the decision taken by the European Space Agency in 2013 to use another radar engineered by the University of Trento, RIME, for another mission on Jupiter to be launched in 2022. This proves the extremely high-level research carried out in Trento in the field of planetary radars, where UniTrento has become a point of reference at global level.
The selection of REASON falls within the framework of a multi-annual study and engineering activity performed by an international research team, coordinated by professors Bruzzone and Blankenship, aimed at the development of radars for the study of Jupiter system. RIME and REASON have different features but they will work in synergy to discover the underground secrets of Jupiter icy moons. RIME will travel on an space sensor of the European Space Agency and will mainly study Ganimede and, to a lesser extent, Callisto and Europa moons.
REASON will travel on a NASA sensor and will focus on Europa, thus integrating RIME’s measurements with additional ones. “The comparative study of the measurements carried out by the radars of the ESA and NASA missions will make unprecedented data available, paving the way to important discoveries on the development of Jupiter system and therefore of the solar system”, Bruzzone explained. “Further, both radars will be capable to directly perform measurements and therefore to identify with certainty the potential presence of water. This would be a historical scientific discovery and a fundamental input draw hypotheses on the presence of elementary forms of life in a planetary system so far away from the Earth”.