Although when talking about SpaceX and NASA, the first thing that comes to mind are the transfers of personnel to and from the International Space Station, something further on with the return of the human being to the Moon, and aspirationally with the arrival of man to Mars sometime in the next decade, the truth is that the collaboration between the two entities goes much further. And I speak literally, since NASA will use SpaceX to explore one of the most fascinating places in our solar system: Europa, Jupiter’s moon.
As we have already told you on previous occasions, Europa is of great interest to scientists because it has certain similarities with our planet but, at the same time, it hides many secrets. We know that it has an immense aquatic mass, an ocean, but that it is completely covered by a thick layer of ice due to the temperature of its surface. However, the fact that the water underneath is in a liquid state suggests that Europa’s ocean floor is warm, which allows us to hypothesize about life inside it.
Be that as it may,NASA announced in 2017 the Europa Clipper mission, a probe that will orbit around this moon of Jupiter equipped with multiple sensors with which it will collect information from both the surface and its atmosphere. And it will not be short on equipment: we are talking about a probe weighing a few kilos over six tons. And in case you’re thinking about it, yes, carrying an object of that weight to the distance from Europa, 628 million kilometers, is a considerable challenge. And that’s where SpaceX comes in.
At first, and for quite some time, the US space agency’s plans were to use the SLS (Space Launch System), a vehicle designed by Boeing for NASA. This was the first option, especially for a large part of the political establishment, probably because of the confidence generated by Boeing’s experience compared to SpaceX’s novelty. However, and after several comings and goings, the balance seems to have shifted to Elon Musk’s company.
The reasons? First, although obviously related to the previous ones, is the cost. Initially budgeted at $1.5 billion, opting to use SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy reduces the cost of launching and transporting the Europa Clipper to $178 million. With the added bonus that, in addition, the scientific community showed preference, from the outset, for the SpaceX option over the SLS.
<img src=”https://www.muycomputer.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Europa-2.jpg 1200w, https://www.muycomputer.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Europa-2-500×300.jpg 500w, https://www.muycomputer.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Europa-2-630×378.jpg 630w, https://www.muycomputer.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Europa-2-768×461.jpg 768w, https://www.muycomputer.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Europa-2-1000×600.jpg 1000w, https://www.muycomputer.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Europa-2-590×354.jpg 590w, https://www.muycomputer.com/wp-content/uploads/2021/07/Europa-2-400×240.jpg 400w” alt=”SpaceX will take NASA to Europa, Jupiter” width=”1200″ height=”720″ />
The ultimate argument for the Falcon Heavy is that SpaceX’s spacecraft could fly directly to Jupiter, unlike the SLS, which would have to rely on the gravitational assistance of Venus to get the necessary thrust to reach its destination. Something that not only makes the flight plan more complex (and therefore more susceptible to failures), but also forces to establish much more advanced thermal shielding for the part of the flight that would take place inside our solar system.
And as if that were not enough, the first tests performed on the two SLS thrusters were very bad news for their supporters, and that is that the vibrations produced by them are much higher than initially estimated, resulting in torsional loads that almost double those originally estimated. A deviation from the forecasts that forces to redesign the thrusters and to readjust the estimates.
The launch of the Europa Clipper probe is scheduled for 2024, so it could be argued that there are still three years to go. However, we are talking about very complex work, so given this problem, it is possible that the engineers will not arrive on time in that year with a fully operational and reliable SLS. SpaceX’s work with its Falcon Heavy is at a much more advanced stage, so it has finally been considered the most reliable option. Thus, it seems that Elon Musk’s interplanetary dream, albeit as a contractor, continues to reach new milestones and distances further and further away.
With information from Wccftech