Elon Musk’s private rocket company SpaceX has been awarded a $178 million contract for NASA’s first mission to Europa, Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon.
The Europa Clipper mission is set for ignition in October 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket owned by Musk’s Space Exploration Technologies Corp, from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, according to a recent NASA statement.
NASA’s support for Elon Musk has been unwavering, as his company has carried a number of cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in recent years.
NASA has selected Falcon Heavy to fly Europa Clipper! Launching in October 2024, this interplanetary mission will study whether Jupiter's icy moon Europa could have conditions suitable for life. https://t.co/KJt7Natn7i pic.twitter.com/sfcdrcKE77
— SpaceX (@SpaceX) July 23, 2021
Earlier this year, SpaceX was awarded a $2.9 billion contract to build the lunar lander spacecraft for the upcoming Artemis mission that would launch NASA astronauts back to the moon for the first time since 1972.
However, the contract was suspended after two competing space companies, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and Dynetics Inc, protested against NASA’s choosing of SpaceX.
News — NASA awards SpaceX with $178 million contract for the launch of the Europa Clipper mission on a Falcon Heavy rocket, set for October 2024.
Congress previously required Europa Clipper launch on an SLS rocket, but technical and scheduling concerns changed that. pic.twitter.com/7GUxGW1R8u
— Michael Sheetz (@thesheetztweetz) July 23, 2021
Europa’s Potential For Life
Musk’s 23-story Falcon Heavy rocket, the current most powerful operational space launch craft on the planet, flew its first commercial payload into orbit back in 2019.
NASA has not specified what other companies may have expressed interest in the Europa Clipper launch contract.
The probe’s mission is to collect data from icy Europa, which is a little smaller than our moon and is a top candidate in the search for life elsewhere in the universe.
There is an ocean of liquid water beneath the icy surface of Jupiter’s moon Europa. Could it harbor conditions suitable for life? To find out, our mission will conduct the most detailed survey of Europa ever attempted. Intrigued? Dive in: https://t.co/rORF6MH6rE #OceanWorlds pic.twitter.com/KqOAFSkBU6
— NASA Europa Clipper (@EuropaClipper) August 20, 2020
NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in 1997 observed that a bend in Europa’s magnetic field seemed to have been caused by a geyser gushing through its frozen crust from a massive ocean. The findings supported other evidence of Europa plumes.
One of the Clipper mission’s tasks is to produce high-quality photographs of Europa’s surface, determine its composition, look for signs of geologic activity, measure the thickness of its icy crust and determine how deep and salty its ocean is, according to NASA.
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