NASA’s Europa Clipper spacecraft, slated for a launch to Jupiter’s icy moon in October 2024, will fly aboard a Falcon Heavy rocket built by SpaceX.
The US space agency will pay approximately $178 million to SpaceX for launch services, it said in a statement on Friday.
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 mission — 45 times fly by the moon — aims 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, NASA said.
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.