NASA’s highly anticipated mission to Jupiter’s ocean moon Europa now finally has a rocket to give it a lift.
The spaceship Europe Clipper from 4.25 billion dollars it will be launched on top of a rocket SpaceX Falcon HeavyNASA officials announced last Friday (July 23), they also added that the total contract value is approximately $ 178 million.
If all goes to plan, the spacecraft Europa Clipper will take off in October 2024 from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida and will arrive orbiting Jupiter in April 2030. The spacecraft will then study the moon Europa in depth during nearly 50 close flyovers over the course of about four Earth years, mission team members said.
The moon Europa hosts a huge ocean of liquid water beneath its frozen shell, and it is considered one of the best possibilities in the solar system for hosting alien life.
The Europa Clipper spacecraft, among many other tasks, will characterize the ocean and the ice shell and will look for good and safe places for land a surface craft that will hunt for “alien lives”; the craft is still not ready however Congress has instructed NASA to develop it (the lander mission remains a concept for now, as it has no funding and is not yet in the NASA books.)
The milestone that the Europa Clipper spacecraft could not have seen
This announcement ends a long launch limbo for the Europa Clipper mission. Congress originally instructed NASA to launch both the Europa Clipper spacecraft and the future lander with the Space Launch System (SLS), the giant rocket the agency is building to launch people and probes to destinations in deep space.
However SLS development has been plagued by delays and cost overruns During the years. The megarazzo has not yet flown, and its first missions are already dedicated to the lunar exploration program Artemis of NASA, which aims to land people on the moon as early as 2024, and then establish a sustainable human presence by the end of the decade.
It was therefore unclear when an SLS would become available for the Europa Clipper, although some leeway for the mission opened last summer.
On that occasion, the United States House of Representatives he stated, in his 2021 budget proposal, that NASA was to launch Clipper by 2025 And the future lander by 2027 And use SLS for both “if available”.
The wording kicked off the possibility of a commercial alternative to SLS, and the Clipper team began planning for both contingencies, a double duty that negatively impacted mission maturation, team members said.
Last January turning point, the Europa Clipper team finally got the clarity they wanted, in the form of a note from the Planetary Missions Program Office from NASA, which told mission team members to stop planning a possible SLS launch because Europe Clipper would have traveled into space on a commercial rocket.
And now we know what the rocket will be, but not the model in that the announcement from NASA did not state which Falcon Heavy rockets will be used for the Clipper contract.
Clipper’s journey to the moon Europe will be more torturous with a Falcon Heavy launch than it would have been aboard the SLS, which NASA advertises as the most powerful rocket ever developed. SLS would send Clipper on a direct trajectory to Jupiter, arriving on the giant planet less than three years after takeoff.
Using a commercial rocket will require Clipper to perform fast flyovers of Mars and Earth in February 2025 and December 2026 respectively, the mission project scientist said earlier this year. Bob Pappalardo of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory of NASA in Southern California.
Falcon Heavy has flown three times to date, most recently in June 2019, when it launched a mission for the US space test program. It will be interesting to see how the story develops and, above all, it will be interesting to understand how the plans will develop from now on.
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