NASA has signed a contract worth more than 151 million euros with SpaceX to launch a probe to Jupiter’s moon Europa. The probe is due to begin its five-year journey to Europe in 2024 to investigate whether life could exist on the ice moon.
Elon Musk’s space company was chosen for the Europa Clippers mission because of its low cost, ArsTechnica said. It reportedly cost NASA nearly $1.7 billion to run its own SLS rocket. The Falcon Heavy is due to launch from Kennedy Space Center in October 2024, NASA has announced. The Europa Clipper probe is expected to arrive at the moon in April 2030 and will orbit the moon up to 44 times in an elliptical orbit. High-resolution photos make it possible to study the surface of Europe, among other things. The probe should be ready for assembly next year. The two space agencies previously announced that they would also work together on a lunar lander.
Due to the unique properties of Jupiter’s Europa, there is potential for life on the moon. The ice-covered celestial body is believed to have saltwater oceans below its surface. The probe should investigate the composition of the ice sheet, how deep and salty the oceans are, and the geological activity of the moon. Europa also has a thin atmosphere of mostly oxygen, although radiation from Jupiter itself means that the surface is probably not habitable. The oceans are currently the biggest contender to support possible life.
An illustration of the Europa Clipper probe over Jupiter’s moon Europa. Image via NASA/JPL-Caltech
Update, 19:55: Amounts originally denominated in dollars have been converted to euros.