Artist's illustration of Europa Clipper. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech

NASA's plans to send a lander and orbiter to Europa, one of Jupiter’s 79 known moons, in the 2020s are in doubt.

Why it matters: NASA hopes to launch its Europa Clipper orbiter by 2023, but a newly released NASA Office of Inspector General report suggests that the agency may not meet that goal, despite solid initial funding and congressional support.

The big picture: Congress mandated that NASA use the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket to launch the Europa Clipper mission, but it's doubtful that an SLS rocket will be available for the mission in 2023, the OIG said.

  • The report suggests that launching the Clipper with a SpaceX Falcon Heavy or Delta IV Heavy rocket from United Launch Alliance would be more cost-effective.
  • NASA has indicated that lifting the SLS mandate would save the agency $700 million.
  • The OIG also cites NASA's "aggressive development schedule" and instruments that cost more than anticipated as other issues that could contribute to the delay.
  • Clipper faces competition within NASA, and the OIG suggested that the agency may not have the personnel required for the mission's development with 4 other Jet Propulsion Lab projects under development as well.
  • NASA will also need "significant" funding from Congress in order to launch the mission on time, the OIG said.

Details: The OIG report also suggests the agency's plans for a lander mission expected to launch in 2025 are in trouble.

  • The Europa lander's 2025 launch date is "not feasible" according to the OIG, which expects late 2026 is the earliest the mission could launch.
  • Scientifically, launching the lander before the orbiter beams back valuable data doesn't make much sense, as the Clipper could inform the lander's mission, the OIG added.
  • The report also recommends that NASA put the lander aside until the scientific community deems it a priority.

Go deeper:

Go deeper

5 mins ago - Technology

Tech hits the brakes on office reopenings

Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

Tech was the first industry to send its workers home when COVID-19 first hit the U.S., and it has been among the most cautious in bringing workers back. Even still, many companies are realizing that their reopening plans from as recently as a few weeks ago are now too optimistic.

Why it matters: Crafting reopening plans gave tech firms a chance to bolster their leadership and model the beginnings of a path back to normalcy for other office workers. Their decision to pause those plans is the latest sign that normalcy is likely to remain elusive in the U.S.

The existential threat to small business

Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

The coronavirus pandemic has changed the game for U.S. businesses, pushing forward years-long shifts in workplaces, technology and buying habits and forcing small businesses to fight just to survive.

Why it matters: These changes are providing an almost insurmountable advantage to big companies, which are positioned to come out of the recession stronger and with greater market share than ever.

Students say they'll sacrifice fun if they can return to campus

Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

College students overwhelmingly plan to return to campus this fall if their schools are open — and they claim they'll sit out the fun even if it's available, according to a new College Reaction/Axios poll.

Why it matters: For many, even an experience devoid of the trappings of college life is still a lot better than the alternative.