Elon Musk’s space company SpaceX has been awarded a $178 million (£129 million) contract for NASA’s first mission to Europa, Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon.
SpaceX will provide “launch services” for the Europa Clipper mission, which will explode in October 2024 to study Europa via a series of fly-bys, NASA said.
The spacecraft will launch on a Falcon Heavy rocket owned by Musk’s company from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, the space agency added.
The mission aims to find out if the natural satellite provides conditions suitable for life using “an advanced array of scientific instruments.”
Europa, an icy moon with a hidden underground ocean, is 1,940 miles (3,100 kilometers) in diameter — about 90 percent the diameter of Earth’s moon.
The announcement comes amid an ongoing battle between SpaceX and rival company Blue Origin, owned by co-billionaire and Amazon founder Jeff Bezos.
Bezos published an open letter to NASA administrator Bill Nelson, who is offering NASA billions of dollars for a contract to build a lunar lander for the upcoming Artemis missions.
There is evidence of recent geologic formations within the 15-mile thick frozen crust, including small, dark, and dome-like features about a mile below the surface
EUROPE: FAST FACTS
Europa is 90 percent the size of Earth’s moon.
It orbits Jupiter at a distance of about 484 million miles (778 million kilometers).
It completes one orbit around Jupiter every 3.5 Earth days.
The surface of Europa consists largely of solid water ice, crossed by faults.
But the underground ocean can hold more than twice as much water as the Earth.
The moon has a very thin oxygen atmosphere – too thin for humans to breathe.
But SpaceX – which made the announcement on its Twitter page – has secured the contract for the Europa Clipper mission.
NASA has Space Exploration Technologies Corp. (SpaceX) of Hawthorne, California selected to provide launch services for Earth’s first mission to conduct detailed exploration of Jupiter’s moon Europa,” the agency said. in a statement.
“The total contract amount for launch services is approximately $178 million.”
The mission’s main objectives are to produce high-resolution images of the surface of Europa, determine its composition and look for signs of recent or ongoing geological activity.
The mission will also measure the thickness of the moon’s icy shell, search for underground lakes and determine the depth and salinity of Europa’s ocean.
Europa is one of the few locations in the solar system with liquid water, along with Earth and Saturn’s moon Enceladus, making it an interesting target for NASA.
Thanks to ground-based telescopes, scientists already know that Europa’s surface is largely made up of water ice.
Scientists have also found evidence that beneath the ice crust is an ocean of liquid water or muddy ice.
According to NASA, Europa’s underground ocean may contain more than twice as much water as Earth.
Last year, Monica Grady, chancellor at Liverpool Hope University, said it is “almost a race sure” that Europe is home to extraterrestrial life, which she believes is “similar to the intelligence of an octopus.”
A 3D model of Europa Clipper
NASA will try to find out if she’s right about the launch of Europa Clipper, which will “send a highly capable, radiation-tolerant spacecraft into a long, looped orbit around Jupiter to perform repeated close flybys of the icy moon.”
NASA hasn’t revealed whether other companies have bid for Europa Clipper’s launch contract, which marks NASA’s latest vote of confidence in Musk’s company.
SpaceX has already transported several payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station (ISS) for the space agency 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 return NASA astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972.
But the contract was dropped after two rival space companies, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics Inc, protested SpaceX’s selection.
SpaceX chief and renowned billionaire Elon Musk (pictured) also owns automaker Tesla and neurotechnology company Neuralink
Now, Bezos claims NASA will “end meaningful competition in the coming years” if it doesn’t consider Blue Origin for contracts in the future.
“It’s not too late to fix it,” Bezos said in a letter to NASA published Monday (July 26).
“We stand ready to help NASA mitigate its technical risks and overcome its budget constraints and put the Artemis program back on a more competitive, credible and sustainable path.”
Jeff Bezos (pictured), founder of Amazon and space tourism company Blue Origin, flew into space on July 20, 2021
SpaceX’s partially reusable 23-story Falcon Heavy, currently the world’s most powerful operational space launch vehicle, flew its first commercial payload into orbit in 2019.
In May 2020, SpaceX successfully transported NASA astronauts Robert Behnken and Douglas Hurley on a 19-hour journey to the ISS — the first manned test flight of the company’s Crew Dragon spacecraft.
In the process, it became the first manned launch from the US into Earth orbit since NASA’s space shuttle program ended in 2011.
NASA will land the first woman and the next man on the moon in 2024 as part of the Artemis mission
Artemis was the twin sister of Apollo and goddess of the moon in Greek mythology.
NASA has chosen her to personify the path back to the moon, which will see astronauts return to the lunar surface by 2024 — including the first woman and the next man.
Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the Moon and Mars.
Artemis 1 will be the first integrated flight test of NASA’s deep space exploration system: the Orion spacecraft, the Space Launch System (SLS) rocket and the ground systems at the Kennedy Space Center in Cape Canaveral, Florida.
Artemis 1 will be an unmanned flight that will provide a foundation for human exploration of deep space and demonstrate our commitment and capacity to extend human existence to the moon and beyond.
During this flight, the spacecraft will launch on the most powerful rocket in the world and fly farther than any spacecraft built for humans has ever flown.
It will travel 280,000 miles (450,600 km) from Earth, thousands of miles beyond the moon over the course of a mission of about three weeks.
Artemis 1, formerly Exploration Mission-1, is the first in a series of increasingly complex missions that will enable human exploration to the Moon and Mars. This image explains the different stages of the mission
Orion will stay in space longer than any other astronaut ship has done without docking in a space station and returning home faster and hotter than ever before.
With this first exploration mission, NASA is leading the next steps of human exploration into deep space, where astronauts will build and begin testing the systems near the moon needed for lunar surface missions and exploration to other destinations further from Earth, including Mars. .
They take the crew on a different trajectory and test Orion’s critical systems with people on board.
The SLS rocket will go from an initial configuration that can send more than 26 tons to the moon to a final configuration that can send at least 45 tons.
Together, Orion, SLS and the ground systems at Kennedy will be able to meet the most challenging needs of crew and cargo missions in deep space.
Ultimately, NASA aims to establish a sustainable human presence on the moon by 2028 as a result of the Artemis mission.
The space agency hopes this colony will discover new scientific discoveries, demonstrate new technological advances and lay the foundation for private companies to build a lunar economy.