Elon Musk’s SpaceX has a first-mover advantage in space commercialization and is aiming to dominate the private sector in this arena and it has now landed a $178 million launch services contract for an upcoming NASA mission. NASA is planning to launch its first mission to Europa, Jupiter’s icy moon, to see if it has the right conditions to support life. According to a report in The Indian Express, NASA made the announcement last week and the Europa Clipper mission will launch in October 2024. For the mission, the agency would use SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy rocket and the launch would take place at NASA’s Florida-based Kennedy Space Centre, it added.
NASA has already worked with SpaceX in recent years to send numerous cargo payloads as well as astronauts to the International Space Station and this contract shows the agency’s faith in Elon Musk’s company. Earlier this year, the company was awarded a $2.9 billion contract by NASA to develop a lunar lander spacecraft for the Artemis mission, which is expected to return NASA astronauts to the Moon for the first time in nearly four decades after 1972. However, the contract was suspended after competitors Blue Origin, which is Jeff Bezos’ space company and Dynetics Inc protested against the contract.
However, the 23-storey Falcon Heavy, which is a reusable vehicle, is at present the most powerful operational space launch vehicle.
NASA’s Europa Clipper mission aims to conduct a detailed survey of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, which is currently the leading contender in the search for life beyond Earth in the solar system. Europa is about the same size as Earth’s Moon. During the mission, high-resolution images of the moon’s surface would be taken in order to determine its composition and detect any signs of geologic activity. NASA also hopes to determine the thickness of the icy shell, as well as the depth and salinity of the moon’s ocean.