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SpaceX wins US$178m launch contract for NASA’s Europa Clipper

SpaceX, Elon Musk’s private space venture, has officially won a US$178 million contract to provide launch services for NASA’s first mission investigating Jupiter’s icy moon Europa.

SpaceX wins US$178m launch contract for NASA’s Europa Clipper
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Under the contract, the Europa Clipper will launch on a SpaceX partially-reusable Falcon Heavy rocket from Launch Complex 39A at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

Notably, by opting to outsource the Europa Clipper’s launch, rather than utilising NASA’s own Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, the space agency is said to have saved over US$2 billion.

Currently, the Europa Clipper is scheduled to launch in October 2024, where it will then travel to the Jovian system and enter an elongated orbit around Jupiter, and perform as many as 44 fly-bys of Europa.

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The Europa Clipper mission will use a sophisticated suite of scientific instruments, to ultimately investigate whether Jupiter’s icy moon has conditions suitable for life.

Currently, scientists believe that under the moon’s icy exterior, Europa could harbour oceans that hold nearly double the amount of water as our oceans here on earth, which ultimately could harbour life.

The Europa Clipper’s key mission objectives are to produce high-resolution images of the moon’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.

Initially, the Europa Clipper mission was obligated to make use of NASA's own SLS, however, under the 2021 budget, Congress allowed NASA to seek out commercial alternatives.

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The space agency began seeking such alternatives soon after receiving said permission, in search of significant savings.

This SpaceX contract is the latest in a number of high-profile NASA contracts won by the private rocket company, which have included sending numerous cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station on behalf of NASA.

SpaceX has sent five of its Dragon capsules to the ISS in the last 12 months alone, with the most recent launch taking place just last month.

Last month’s capsule, which launched from the SpaceX Falcon 9 Launcher, boasted a few surprises in its payload, including toothpaste and tiny sea creatures, that will be used to conduct research experiments aboard the ISS.

The Dragon capsule is capable of carrying seven passengers and is the only spacecraft returning large amounts of cargo to Earth.

The Dragon is also the first private spacecraft to take humans to the space station.

Hannah Dowling

Hannah Dowling

Writer – Defence and Aerospace, Momentum Media

Hannah joined Momentum as a journalist in 2019, and has since written breaking news stories across a diverse range of corporate industries, including finance, real estate, investments and aviation. She has a keen interest in the global aviation sector, with a particualy focus on improving overall individual wellbeing across the aerospace industry.

Hannah graduated from Macquarie University in Sydney Australia with a Bachelor of Media (Journalism) and is currently pursuing postgraduate studies.

Send Hannah an email at [email protected] or connect via Twitter or LinkedIn.

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