Today, July 23, NASA announced it awarded SpaceX a contract to launch the Europa Clipper spacecraft to Jupiter’s icy Europa moon. The mission is scheduled for October 2024. Clipper will launch atop SpaceX’s powerful Falcon Heavy rocket from historic Launch Pad 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida. “The total contract award amount for launch services is approximately $178 million,” the agency said in a press release. At first glance, that price tag may seem expensive but NASA is actually saving around $2 billion dollars by selecting SpaceX to launch Clipper towards the Jovian system. Previously, the agency planned to launch it aboard Boeing's Space Launch System (SLS) rocket which is still under development. The SLS rocket’s development has been expensive and has faced many delays. The cost to launch it aboard SLS would be over $2 billion.
Falcon Heavy is currently the world's most powerful rocket in operation. The vehicle consists of three Falcon 9 booster cores, it can generate over 5 million pounds of thrust with its 27 Merlin engines. The rocket is capable of propelling large payload to far away space destinations. Europa Clipper will be launched on a voyage towards Jupiter approximately 383.33 million miles away from Earth. If it launches in 2024, the spacecraft could arrive to orbit around Jupiter by April 2030. Clipper will be tasked with performing 44 flybys of Europa over the course of about four years.
Europa is believed to have the ingredients necessary to be potentially habitable. The mysterious icy moon will be explored by the spacecraft to search for signs of alien life. Scientists believe the liquid water under the ice could host aquatic lifeforms. “Europa Clipper will conduct a detailed survey of Europa and use a sophisticated suite of science instruments to investigate whether the icy moon has conditions suitable for life,” the agency stated. “Key mission objectives are to produce high-resolution images of Europa's surface, determine its composition, look for signs of recent or ongoing geological activity, measure the thickness of the moon’s icy shell, search for subsurface lakes, and determine the depth and salinity of Europa's ocean.”
SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy Rocket Source: SpaceX
Featured Image Source: NASA JPL-CalTech