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Europa Clipper to fly on commercial rocket, not SLS

NASA managers have now decided unequivocally to not use SLS to launch Europa Clipper, and will instead choose a commercial rocket in about a year.

During a Feb. 10 presentation at a meeting of NASA’s Outer Planets Assessment Group (OPAG), leaders of the Europa Clipper project said the agency recently decided to consider only commercial launch vehicles for the mission, and no longer support a launch of the spacecraft on the SLS.

“We now have clarity on the launch vehicle path and launch date,” Robert Pappalardo, project scientist for Europa Clipper at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said. That clarity came in the form of a Jan. 25 memo from NASA’s Planetary Missions Program Office to “immediately cease efforts to maintain SLS compatibility” and move forward with a commercial launch vehicle, or CLV, he said.

Though this decision was expected following the approval of the most recent congressional budget for NASA, which contained language allowing NASA to abandon SLS if it thought it wise, this decision continues the string of recent stories that all point toward the eventually abandonment of SLS itself.

At the moment the rocket most likely to win the contract is the Falcon Heavy.

Pioneer cover

From the press release: From the moment he is handed a possibility of making the first alien contact, Saunders Maxwell decides he will do it, even if doing so takes him through hell and back.

Unfortunately, that is exactly where that journey takes him.

The vision that Zimmerman paints of vibrant human colonies on the Moon, Mars, the asteroids, and beyond, indomitably fighting the harsh lifeless environment of space to build new societies, captures perfectly the emerging space race we see today.

He also captures in Pioneer the heart of the human spirit, willing to push forward no matter the odds, no matter the cost. It is that spirit that will make the exploration of the heavens possible, forever, into the never-ending future.

Available everywhere for $3.99 (before discount) at amazon, Barnes & Noble, all ebook vendors, or direct from the ebook publisher, ebookit. And if you buy it from ebookit you don't support the big tech companies and I get a bigger cut much sooner.


  • Dean Hurt

    YAY Falcon Heavy!! NASA has spent decades frittering it’s spaceflight leadership with incompetence and mostly lack of vision and lack of action. They are paralyzed by bureaucratic ennui and an inability to wean from the government teat!

  • Ray Van Dune

    Last I heard Falcon Heavy would require a Mars – Earth Gravity Assist (MEGA) maneuver, adding a couple of years to the overall flight. But it was not clear whether a fully-expended boost would require that (that is using all the fuel in all three booster cores for delta-v, rather than recovering any of the cores).

    The only booster I can think of that would out-lift Falcon Heavy would be… Super Heavy!! Can it be ready in time?

  • geoffc

    To use Super Heavy, would mean launching as a payload inside the upper stage (Starship) and probably needing a fairly large upper stage for leaving LEO.

    Would be funny to launch a Delta 4 upper stage inside a Starship but I can’t imagine LH2/LOX inside a Starship s a good mix.

  • Ray Van Dune

    The simple architecture of the SH/SS system lends itself to variation. Imagine a Starship configuration that would function as a “traditional” second stage… on steroids! For payloads to the outer planets, forget the Chomper, just use conventional fairing halves. You know what Elon would say if you say it can’t be done in time?

    “Hold my beer…”

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