Musk’s SpaceX to launch NASA’s Europa mission for $178m

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NASA has awarded Elon Musk’s SpaceX a contract worth $178m to provide launch services for its first mission to conduct detailed investigations of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

The mission, called Europa Clipper, will begin in October 2024 at NASA’s Kennedy Space Centre in Florida.

A Falcon Heavy rocket owned by Musk’s company, Space Exploration Technologies Corporation, will conduct a detailed survey of Europa and investigate whether it has the potential to sustain life.

The mission’s main objectives include: producing high-resolution images of Europa’s surface; determining its composition; looking for signs of recent or ongoing geological activity; measuring the thickness of the moon’s icy shell; searching for subsurface lakes and determining the depth and salinity of Europa’s ocean.

The Falcon Heavy is a partially reusable heavy-lift launch vehicle, which was first launched in 2018. Since June 2010, rockets from SpaceX’s Falcon 9 family have been launched 126 times, with 124 full mission successes, one partial failure and one total loss of spacecraft in 2019.

The contract marked NASA’s latest vote of confidence in Musk’s company, which has carried several cargo payloads and astronauts to the International Space Station for NASA in recent years.

In April, SpaceX was awarded a $2.9bn contract to build the lunar lander spacecraft for the planned Artemis program that would carry NASA astronauts back to the moon for the first time since 1972.

However, that contract was later suspended after two rival space companies, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and defense contracter Dynetics Inc, protested against the SpaceX selection.

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