Spacecraft Makers: Sewing Blankets for NASA’s Europa Clipper
See how a team at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory sews and installs thermal blankets to protect the agency’s Europa Clipper spacecraft from the cold and harsh environment it will face around Jupiter as it investigates the planet’s ice-encrusted moon Europa.
In this episode of the Spacecraft Makers video series, Mark Duran and Morgan Betsill provide a behind-the-scenes look at JPL’s “Shield Shop,” where layers of the thermal blankets come together before they are installed on the spacecraft. Then, these custom blankets are carefully fitted onto the spacecraft in a clean room at JPL.
Spacecraft Makers is a video series that takes audiences behind the scenes to learn more about how space missions, like Europa Clipper, come together. Europa Clipper will explore this icy moon of Jupiter to see if there are conditions suitable for life. The spacecraft needs to be hardy enough to survive a 1.6 billion-mile, six-year journey to Jupiter – and sophisticated enough to perform a detailed science investigation of Europa once it arrives at the Jupiter system in 2030.
Europa Clipper is expected to launch in October 2024 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida.
When the spacecraft is in JPL’s clean room, viewers also can watch a 24-hour live feed of the spacecraft here.
For more information on the mission go to: https://europa.nasa.gov/.
For more information on this video series, which focuses on how space missions come together, visit https://bit.ly/49MWe54.
Did you know that robots wear blankets in space? Let's take a look at how they're sewn together.
We call this the “Shield Shop” because the thermal control blanket shields the spacecraft against extreme hot and cold temperatures of outer space.
The spacecraft that need shielding: Europa Clipper. It's set to travel nearly 2 billion miles to study Jupiter's moon Europa. The goal is to find out if there's water beneath the icy surface and if it could support life.
The Europa Clipper mission is a unique mission. It has especially harsh environment of high radiation and we need to ground a thermal blanket. We're using a special material that is easily groundable.
Materials including Kapton and Mylar. These are lightweight and heat resistant.
I don't know if you've ever seen those emergency blankets? It's the same principle where you're trying to maintain heat. What it's doing is it's making it difficult for heat to escape.
Clipper’s blanket will have 22 layers, but it's only about a quarter of an inch thick.
A lot of people think that these are so delicate, but they're not really delicate. There's a lot of testing to make certain that the materials hold up.
I'm kind of a spacecraft seamstress, so just like they have to fit particular bodies, I have to fit particular shapes. I make cozy winter jackets that keep them nice and warm. The radiator was really tricky. Something that's like a simple cube is pretty easy. But when you start getting into really crazy geometries, you kind of have to fit it on there a few times before it's going to be perfect.
I would call this my sketchbook. It's easier to draw something out on a small scale instead of drawing the whole thing out and then realizing a measurement is wrong. So it's helpful to have a drawing and then notes that you can see all in one spot.
Each blanket either gets sewn together or it's laced together. We're going to be delivering almost 300 thermal blankets to the Europa Clipper project, and at the end it's just like one giant blanket.
Europa Clipper will continue to be assembled at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in preparation for launch in 2024. Thank you for watching Spacecraft Makers.