NASA is giving $178 million to SpaceX for launching its mission to a Jupiter moon that could harbor alien life.
NASA has chosen SpaceX to launch its next alien-hunting mission to a Jupiter moon. The mission, called Europa Clipper, is designed to fly past Jupiter’s moon Europa 45 times, getting as close as 16 miles above its surface. Scientists believe the moon conceals a global ocean beneath its icy crust, and alien life could thrive deep within it.
NASA is giving $178 million for Alien-hunting.
Elon Musk’s private rocket company SpaceX was awarded a $178 million launch services contract for Nasa’s first mission focusing on Jupiter’s icy moon Europa and whether it may host conditions suitable for life, the space agency said on Friday.
The Europa Clipper mission is due for blastoff in October 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket owned by Musk’s company, Space Exploration Technologies Corp, from Nasa’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, Nasa said in a statement posted online.
NASA & SpaceX
The mission to Jupiter’s icy moon Europa was cleared by NASA in 2015.
For years, the Clipper was legally obligated to launch on NASA’s long-delayed Space Launch System (SLS). But with the SLS perpetually delayed and over budget, NASA has urged Congress to consider allowing the Europa Clipper to fly commercial. Switching to another vehicle could save up to $1 billion, NASA’s inspector general said in 2019, the Verge reported.
In the 2021 budget, NASA got permission to consider commercial alternatives to the SLS. It soon started officially looking for a commercial alternative. On Friday it awarded the contract to SpaceX.
SpaceX first launched its Falcon Heavy rocket in 2018, and started flying satellites in 2019. Earlier this year, NASA also selected the rocket as the ride to space for two parts of a planned space station orbiting the Moon, the report said.
The contract marked Nasa’s latest vote of confidence in the Hawthorne, California-based company, which has carried several cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for Nasa in recent years.
In April, SpaceX was awarded a $2.9 billion contract to build the lunar lander spacecraft for the planned Artemis program that would carry Nasa astronauts back to the moon for the first time SpaceX DearMoon Mission Will Take Eight People ‘further than any human has ever gone’ since 1972.
But that contract was suspended after two rival space companies, Jeff Bezos’s Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics Inc, protested against the SpaceX selection.
The company’s partly reusable 23-story Falcon Heavy, currently the most powerful operational space launch vehicle in the world, flew its first commercial payload into orbit in 2019.
The Bottom Line
Nasa did not say what other companies may have bid on the Europa Clipper launch contract.
The probe is to conduct a detailed survey of the ice-covered Jovian satellite, which is a bit smaller than Earth’s moon and is a leading candidate in the search for life elsewhere in the solar system.
A bend in Europa’s magnetic field observed by Nasa’s Galileo spacecraft in 1997 appeared to have been caused by a geyser gushing through the moon’s frozen crust from a vast subsurface ocean, researchers concluded in 2018. Those findings support other evidence of European plumes.
Europa is among NASA’s top scientific efforts, given the enormous amount of saltwater that lies below its icy surface. The Europa Clipper spacecraft will produce high-resolution images of the surface, determine the moon’s composition and scan for geologic activity, NASA said. It will hunt for subsurface lakes, measure the moon’s shell, and determine the depth and salinity of the ocean.
Space Exploration Technologies Corp., based in Hawthorne, California, has become a favored NASA contractor in recent years, transporting cargo and crews to the International Space Station.
Among the Clipper mission’s objectives are to produce high-resolution images of Europa’s surface, determine its composition, look for signs of geologic activity, measure the thickness of its icy shell and determine the depth and salinity of its ocean, Nasa said.