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SpaceX wins $178m NASA contract

July 26, 2021

By Chris Forrester

Elon Musk’s Space Exploration rocket company has received another major endorsement. NASA is awarding it a $178 million (€151.1m) launch contract to send a mission – the Europa Clipper – to one of Jupiter’s moons.

The news will not affect SpaceX’s imminent start of its Starlink broadband-by-satellite service, but it shows that NASA believes that SpaceX represents better value for money than its other options which would have been sure to have included the United Launch Alliance (ULA) of Atlas and Delta (although NASA has not confirmed who precisely was involved in the Jupiter tender).

It isn’t the largest NASA contract to be awarded to SpaceX. In April 2021, SpaceX received a $2.9 billion contract to build a lunar lander spacecraft for the upcoming Artemis programme which will again take NASA astronauts to the Moon. That award was objected to by Jeff Bezos Blue Origin business as well as defence contractor Dynetics Inc.

The new contract is targeting Jupiter’s Europa icy moon which experts suggest might sustain life.

Elon Musk, as well as members of his executive team, have said that SpaceX will open up its initial Starlink broadband service in August. Starlink is “operational now in about 12 countries, and more are being added every month,” Musk said, talking at the Mobile World Congress event in Barcelona.

Meanwhile, SpaceX gained a legal benefit on July 20th when a Federal Appeals Court judge ruled that Viasat could not continue with its objections to the Starlink system. Viasat wanted all future launches halted while an environmental impact study was carried out. The judges in the case ruled that Viasat “had not achieved the stringent requirements for a stay [halt].”

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