Plumes of water vapor on Europa? We may find out in about a decade. (credit: NASA/ESA/K. Retherford/SWRI)

In November Ars revealed exclusive details about a daring mission to land on Jupiter’s moon Europa, and now it has become the law of the land. The Congressional budget deal to fund NASA for the fiscal year 2016 includes $1.63 billion for planetary science, of which $175 million is designated for the “Jupiter Europa clipper mission.” It has a target launch date of 2022.

But the new budget legislation does not stop there. It further stipulates, “This mission shall include an orbiter with a lander that will include competitively selected instruments and that funds shall be used to finalize the mission design concept.” In other words, it's against the law to fly the mission to Europa without a lander.

The overall budget for NASA provides $19.2 billion for NASA in fiscal year 2016, about $700 million more than President Obama requested. “This number, this year, is the largest vote of confidence that Congress has ever given NASA,” Texas Congressman John Culberson, who chairs the House Appropriations subcommittee with jurisdiction over the space agency, told Ars. “There’s enough money to do everything on their plate.”

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