NASA announced Friday it has awarded Hawthorne-based SpaceX a $178 million contract to launch the first mission aimed at conducting detailed investigations of Jupiter’s icy moon Europa, including a search for potentially life-supporting water.

SpaceX is expected to employ its Falcon Heavy rocket to launch the Europa Clipper mission from Cape Canaveral in Florida, with the launch anticipated in October 2024.

Managed by Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, the Europa Clipper mission will employ an array of scientific tools to determine if the Jupiter moon has conditions suitable for life.

Scientists have long theorized that Europa has a vast salty ocean beneath its icy surface, potentially with more water than all of Earth’s oceans combined. The presence of water is an essential element of life.

The Clipper mission collect high-resolution images of Europa’s surface, determine its composition while also searching for signs of geological activity. It will also measure the thickness of its icy surface and employ ice-penetrating radar to search for subsurface water.

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