SpaceX’s other large rocket, the Falcon Heavy, will carry NASA’s planned Europa Clipper and head to the frozen Ganymede,media reported. A draft appropriations plan released Tuesday by the U.S. House of Representatives provides Elon Musk’s Rockets and rival Jeff Bezos with the opportunity to launch an orbiter into Jupiter in 2025 and a lander into Ganymede by 2027.
“NASA will use the Space Launch System (SLS), if possible, as a launch vehicle for the 10 Jupiter Jupiter Europa missions,” the House Appropriations Committee wrote in the draft. “
The reality, however, is that SLS has fallen behind the schedule and exceeded its budget for many years. SpaceX has been keeping a close eye on NASA’s internal rocket development plans, following the successful debut of the Falcon Heavy rocket and the continued progress of the larger starship. In addition, the cost of sLS is much higher than SpaceX’s, and it’s not even clear whether it will be ready by 2025.
The bill also provides NASA with more than $400 million to build the Ganymede orbiter.
This, of course, is only the beginning of the budget process. Congress will also continue to negotiate the actual amount and terms, how much NASA will actually get and what it will use. Still, this small change in the early documents is an important admission that sticking to SLS may not be realistic if the rocket is not ready for launch in time by 2024.