NASA announced Friday July 23 that it had chosen SpaceX for its planned trip to Europe, the frozen moon of Jupiter, a major victory for the company of billionaire Elon Musk who aims to venture further into the solar system.
The Europa Clipper mission will launch in October 2024 with a Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center, Florida. The contract amount is 178 million dollars (151 million euros). The mission previously had to rely on NASA’s Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which experienced delays and cost overruns.
The equivalent of 18 Boeing 747s
Since SLS is not yet operational, Falcon Heavy has been deployed on commercial and government missions since its maiden flight in 2018. It generates approximately 2,300 tonnes of thrust (22 million Newtons) on take-off, the equivalent of approximately eighteen Boeing 747 planes. The orbiter is expected to make 40 to 50 close passes around Europe to determine if this icy moon can harbor suitable conditions for life.
In particular, it will be responsible for cameras and spectrometers to produce high-resolution images and maps of the composition of the surface and the atmosphere, as well as a radar to penetrate the ice sheet and search for liquid water in below.