NASA officially announced Friday that SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy would launch in 2024 the Europa Clipper, agency’s most important Solar System exploration mission of the 2020s. Europa Clipper will conduct a detailed survey of Europa and use a sophisticated suite of science instruments. The mission got the green light from NASA in 2015. The spacecraft will make as many as 44 flybys of Europa, the intriguing, ice-encrusted Jovian moon that scientists believe harbors a vast ocean beneath the surface. Europa Clipper’s main objective is to determine whether Europa could host life at all. It is possible that aquatic life exists there. The total contract award amount for launch services is approximately $178 million. The selection of a launch vehicle for this ambitious mission has been subjected to a long, drawn-out political process.
Many in the scientific community preferred to launch on SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy. As a NASA partner, SpaceX is now regularly ferrying astronauts to and from the space station. SpaceX first launched its Falcon Heavy rocket in 2018, and started flying satellites in 2019. Europa is one of the Galilean moons of Jupiter, along with Io, Ganymede and Callisto. Astronomer Galileo Galilei gets the credit for discovering these moons, among the largest in the solar system. Several spacecraft have done flybys of Europa (including Pioneers 10 and 11 and Voyagers 1 and 2 in the 1970s).