Space – SpaceX wins NASA deal to launch JPL’s Europa Clipper mission to Jupiter – Daily Breeze
HAWTHORNE — NASA announced Friday, July 23, that it has awarded Hawthorne-based SpaceX a $178 million contract to launch the first mission aimed at conducting detailed investigations of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, including a search for potentially life-supporting water.
SpaceX is expected to employ its Falcon Heavy rocket to launch the Europa Clipper mission from Cape Canaveral in Florida, with the launch anticipated in October 2024.
Managed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena/La Canada Flintridge, the Europa Clipper mission will employ an array of scientific tools to determine if the Jupiter moon has conditions suitable for life.
Scientists have long theorized that Europa has a vast salty ocean beneath its icy surface, potentially with more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined. The presence of water is an essential element of life.
The Clipper mission collect high-resolution images of Europa’s surface, determine its composition while also searching for signs of geological activity. It will also measure the thickness of its icy surface and employ ice-penetrating radar to search for subsurface water.
SpaceX has been paving the way to more ambitious space travel in recent years.
In May, SpaceX pulled off a mostly flawless landing of its newest and biggest rocket, as the model’s fifth test flight opened the door to higher-altitude excursions.
The Starship SN-15 prototype lifted off from a seaside launch padin Boca Chica, Texas. The rocket flew to an altitude of about 6.2 miles before a controlled descent, based on live video streamed by the company. The landing was marred only by a small fire at the bottom of the vehicle that was extinguished after a few minutes.
The milestone achievement paves the way for more adventuresome tests of a rocket that SpaceX founder Elon Musk envisions as a future workhorse for trips to the moon and Mars. NASA recently picked SpaceX to develop a moon-landing system for astronauts with Starship.
JPL has logged impressive achievements of its own recently.
In April, a 4-pound drone called Ingenuity became the first helicopter to soar on Mars.
Also, JPL and Caltech researchers said last month they want to further test the use of high-altitude balloons — like two used in California after a series of earthquakes about two years ago — to determine if they could be utilized to study seismic activity on Venus.
Instruments attached to one of two “heliotrope” balloons detected a low-frequency acoustic vibration wash over it as a result of a 4.2-magnitude aftershock in July 2019, with scientists subsequently confirming that they had detected a naturally occurring earthquake from a balloon-borne instrument for the first time, according to researchers.
Researchers deployed the balloons with a goal of testing the technology for further applications on Venus.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.