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NASA chooses SpaceX for a mission to Jupiter moon Europa

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NASA announced today that SpaceX has been chosen to fly a planned mission to Jupiter's frozen moon Europa, a significant victory for Elon Musk's firm as it moves farther into the solar system.

The Europa Clipper mission will launch from the Kennedy Space Center in Florida in October 2024 on a Falcon Heavy rocket, with a total contract value of $178 million.

The mission was originally planned to launch on NASA's own Space Launch System (SLS) rocket, which has been beset by delays and cost overruns, prompting opponents to label it a "jobs program" for Alabama, where much of the development work is taking place.

While the SLS is still in development, Falcon Heavy has flown on commercial and government missions since its first flight in 2018, when it took Elon Musk's Tesla Roadster into orbit.

At liftoff, it produces more than five million pounds of thrust (22 million Newtons), which is equivalent to almost eighteen 747 aircraft.

The Europa clipper orbiter will make 40 to 50 close passes over Europa in order to discover whether the ice moon may support life.

Its payload will contain cameras and spectrometers that will provide high-resolution photos and compositional maps of the surface and atmosphere, as well as radar that will penetrate the ice cover in search of liquid water underneath.