London: NASA is planning to send a space probe to Europa, one of the moons of Jupiter and the most likely place in the Solar System for extraterrestrial life, within the next ten years.
The US space agency has approved the "concept" of a probe that could orbit Jupiter and make a detailed survey of the icy surface of Europa which covers a liquid ocean where life may exist, the Independent reported.
An orbiting probe around Jupiter could be launched in 2021 or 2022 and could reach the giant planet within six years, Robert Pappalardo, a senior researcher at NASA`s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California said.
The probe, called Clipper, will be designed to survey the surface of Europa using ice-penetrating radar and infrared sensors as it makes multiply flybys of the ice-capped "water world" from its orbit around Jupiter, Dr Pappalardo said.
Mapping data from the survey will be used to plan a future mission to make a soft landing on the moon in order to search for signs of life, Dr Pappalardo told the American Association for the Advancement of Science meeting in Boston.
"Europa is the most likely place to find life beyond Earth and there is high interest in the scientific community and the US Congress to see a Europa mission," Dr Pappalardo said.
NASA commissioned a report on a future Europa probe which concluded that the mission would cost 2 billion dollars, in addition to the cost of the launch vehicle and rockets.