NASA awarded SpaceX a $178 million contract on Friday to launch the agency’s Europa Clipper mission to study Jupiter’s fourth-largest moon, Europa.
The mission is scheduled to launch from Florida’s Kennedy Space Center in October 2024 on the private aerospace company’s Falcon Heavy rocket.
“Europa Clipper will conduct a detailed survey of Europa and use a sophisticated suite of science instruments to investigate whether the icy moon has conditions suitable for life,” NASA said.
“Key mission objectives are to produce 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.”
Europa is the smallest of Jupiter’s four moons discovered by Italian astronomer Galileo Galilei in the 17th century. In the late 1990s, NASA’s Galileo spacecraft examined the moon, taking photos that revealed a relatively smooth surface marked by ridges, bands, and small, rounded domes.
“We’ve only seen a very small part of Europa’s surface at this resolution. Europa Clipper will increase that immensely,” said planetary geologist Cynthia Phillips of NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of Caltech in Pasadena.