SpaceX's Falcon Heavy rocket, the Californian company founded by Elon Musk, was chosen for the launch of Europa Clipper, the mission designed to study Europa, Jupiter's moon considered one of the most promising sites for the research of any forms of extra-terrestrial life.
The $ 178 million contract is scheduled to launch in October 2024.
Europa Clipper will be the first interplanetary mission with the specific objective of studying Europe closely, in particular by crossing the water vapors expelled into the atmosphere by the geysers found on the icy surface of the Jovian moon.
The probe, which will probably have a small array of cubesat minisatellites to be released at a very low altitude, will be equipped with a series of instruments that will also have to measure the thickness of the ice that completely envelops Europe and define its internal structure.
In fact, between the frozen surface and the rocky core it is believed that there are vast seas of liquid water heated by geological activity: conditions that closely resemble those of the hydrothermal chimneys of our oceans and which may have been the first cradles of life.
In a press release, NASA announced that the launch will take place in October 2024 with a Falcon Heavy, currently the most powerful operational rocket in the world, from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida while the cost of the entire service will be approximately 178 million. dollars.
NASA's Europa Clipper mission will be partially complementary with JUpiter ICy moons Explorer (JUICE) of the Euroea Space Agency (ESA), the first entirely European mission to Jupiter that will also visit Europe and two other large Jupiter satellites, Ganymede and Callisto, and which will start as early as 2022 with an Ariane 5 rocket.