KEY POINTS

  • The U.S. Congress released a new appropriations bill on Tuesday
  • The bill discusses details about NASA's future missions to Europa
  • SpaceX and Blue Origin could transport NASA missions to Europa

A newly released congressional appropriations bill could provide private companies such as SpaceX and Blue Origin with the opportunity to carry out commercial spaceflights for NASA missions to Jupiter’s moon Europa.

The new appropriations bill was released by the U.S. Congress on Tuesday. It provides detailed guidelines regarding the budget allocated for future space missions.

One aspect of space exploration that the bill tackled is NASA’s proposed missions to Europa, which is the smallest moon orbiting Jupiter. For years, NASA has been targeting Europa as the focus of a new mission because of its potential habitability.

Currently, there is no concrete evidence pointing to the presence of life on the natural satellite. However, through observations made on Europa, many scientists believe that its subsurface oceans might have the right conditions to support life.

In support of the mission, the appropriations bill allocated about $400 million to NASA for the construction and development of a Europa orbiter. In addition, the bill provided new provisions regarding NASA’s future missions to the natural satellite.

“The National Aeronautics and Space Administration shall use the Space Launch System, if available, as the launch vehicles for the Jupiter Europa missions, plan for an orbiter launch no later than 2025 and a lander launch no later than 2027,” the bill stated.

As pointed out by CNET, the phrase “if available” serves a crucial role in the condition explained by the bill. In the past, Congress has been adamant in the use of the Space Launch System rocket for NASA’s mission to Jupiter’s moon.

However, during his appearance before the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee last year, NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine admitted that the agency is having a hard time meeting the development deadlines of the launch vehicle.

In addition, the bill also stated that NASA should continue building partnerships with commercial companies for its future missions. Out of the numerous private spaceflight firms operating in the U.S., Elon Musk’s SpaceX and Jeff Bezos’ Blue Origin are the top companies that could provide what NASA needs.

As noted by CNET, these two companies could use their own launch vehicles, such as SpaceX’s Falcon Heavy and Blue Origin’s New Shepard, to deliver NASA’s proposed missions to Europa.

Europa Scientists reveal where to look and how far to dig while looking for life on Europa. Photo: NASA/JPL-Caltech/SETI Institute