SpaceX will ensure the start of the Europa Clipper mission for NASA in 2024. Objective: send a probe to closely study Europe, a moon of Jupiter. Its characteristics, which are potentially favorable to the emergence of a life form, fascinate scientists.
It’s a success for SpaceX. The American company has landed a new contract with NASA for an exploration mission in deep space, to the outskirts of Jupiter, the largest planet in the Solar System. Objective: to launch a probe, Europa Clipper, to study Europe, one of the moons of the Jovian system. For this, a Falcon Heavy rocket will be mobilized.
The announcement of the selection of SpaceX, July 23, allows the American company founded by entrepreneur Elon Musk to fill its order book for its heavy launcher. The Falcon Heavy turns out to be a special version of its successful rocket, the Falcon 9: it is added two first stages of two other Falcon 9, so that they serve as additional boosters.
In the long term, the Falcon Heavy must be replaced by the Starship. In the meantime, the machine is accumulating missions: in 2020, the US space agency chose SpaceX and its heavy vehicle for the Psyche mission, which will take place between 2022 and 2026. The Falcon Heavy must also be used in support of the future lunar station LOP-G (Lunar Orbital Platform-Gateway) to route modules and supply.
The Falcon Heavy must also lead another mission, on behalf of NASA, at the south pole of the Moon. It also has contracts with telecommunications satellite operators, as well as with the Pentagon, to deploy covert payloads. To date, the Falcon Heavy has served three times, between 2018 and 2020.
Is the moon Europe conducive to the blossoming of life?
The Europa Clipper mission is scheduled to depart in October 2024 from Kennedy Space Center in Florida on the east coast of the United States. It will take about six years to reach the moon of Jupiter, in April 2030. The contract with SpaceX reaches 178 million dollars (approximately 145 million euros). The mission itself costs much more, costing several billion dollars.
Detection of signs of geological activity, high resolution photographs of the surface, search for underground lakes, measurement of the thickness of the ice layer, analysis of the composition of the moon and its ocean (depth, salinity) are the main tasks devolved to Europa Clipper, whose mission was validated by NASA in August 2019.
With Europa Clipper, NASA seeks above all to ” determine if this icy moon presents suitable conditions for life “. Several scientific hypotheses exist on the subject. The very probable presence of liquid water in the bowels of the star and its particular characteristics plead in favor of possible life forms. But to find out more, you have to be able to go there.