A SpaceX Falcon Heavy rocket will be launching NASA’s long-awaited mission to Europa, Jupiter’s icy moon that may have the conditions to support life. The agency has been planning to send a probe to the Jovian moon for years and finalized its plans in 2019. In its announcement, NASA said the Europa Clipper spacecraft is scheduled to launch in October 2024 on top of a Falcon Heavy rocket from Kennedy Space Center’s Launch Complex 39A. It has also revealed that the contract will cost the agency approximately $178 million — a bargain, compared to what it would’ve cost to launch the mission on top of NASA’s Space Launch System rocket.
As Ars Technica notes, Congress originally urged NASA to use the SLS to launch the Europa Clipper. At the time, though, the White House estimated a single SLS launch to cost a whopping $2 billion. Far from ideal, especially since the SLS would need gravity assist from Venus and travel farther to be able to reach its goal, whereas the Falcon Heavy wouldn’t. In addition, NASA told Ars that the SLS would need $1 billion worth of additional modifications to be able to complete the mission.
If Europa Clipper launches in October 2024 as planned, it will reach Jupiter’s orbit in April 2030. The probe will then investigate whether the icy moon truly has conditions suitable for life. It’ll capture “high-resolution images of Europa’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.”
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