The Europa Clipper mission is set to take off 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.
The contract marked NASA’s latest vote of confidence in the Hawthorne, California-based company that has transported several payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in recent years.
In April, SpaceX won a $ 2.9 billion (€ 2.46 billion) contract to build the lunar landing spacecraft for the planned Artemis program that would bring NASA astronauts back to the moon for the first time since 1972.
But that contract was suspended after two rival space companies, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics Inc, protested the selection of SpaceX.
Proof of life?
The company’s partially reusable 23-story Falcon Heavy, currently the world’s most powerful operational space launcher, launched its first commercial payload in 2019.
NASA did not specify which other companies could have bid on the Europa Clipper launch contract.
The probe is due to conduct a detailed study of the ice-covered Jovian satellite, which is slightly smaller than Earth’s moon and is a prime candidate in the search for life elsewhere in the solar system.
A curvature in Europe’s magnetic field observed by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft in 1997 appears to have been caused by a geyser bursting through the moon’s frozen crust from a vast subterranean ocean, the researchers concluded in 2018. These results confirmed further evidence of plumes from Europe.
Among the objectives of the Clipper mission are to produce high resolution images of the surface of Europe, determine its composition, look for signs of geological activity, measure the thickness of its ice shell and determine the depth and the salinity of its ocean, NASA said.