NASA said in a statement posted on the Internet that the Falcon Heavy rocket belonging to the Space Exploration Technologies company, owned by the mission catcher Europa Clipper, is scheduled to launch from NASA’s Kennedy Space Center in Florida, USA.
The contract represents NASA’s latest vote of confidence in the Hawthorne, California-based company that has transported several cargoes and astronauts to NASA’s International Space Station in recent years.
And in April, SpaceX was awarded a $2.9 billion contract to build a spacecraft to land on the moon that will carry NASA astronauts to the moon for the first time since 1972.
But that contract was put on hold after two rival aerospace companies, Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin and defense contractor Dynetics protested the selection of SpecksX.
The partially reusable 23-storey Falcon Heavy is the most powerful space launch vehicle in operation in the world today and carried its first commercial payloads into space in 2019.
The probe will conduct a detailed survey of Jupiter’s moon Europa, which is covered in ice, which is slightly smaller than Earth’s moon, and is one of the areas scientists are looking for the possibility of life in the solar system.
Among the goals of the Clipper mission are to produce high-resolution images of Europa’s surface, determine its composition, search for signs of geological activity, measure the thickness of its ice sheet, and determine the depth and salinity of its surroundings, NASA said.