jimo_color_new.jpgNASA's nuclear-powered mission to Jupiter's moons is on. The space agency tyesterday handed out a $400 million contract to Northrop Grumman to start work on Project Prometheus, its effort to send an unmanned probe to the moons of Callisto, Ganymede, and Europa.Under the contract, Northrop Grumman will work with a government team to complete the preliminary design for the spacecraft. The work includes developing hardware, software and test activities for the design of the non-nuclear portion of the spacecraft. It also includes developing the interfaces for the spacecraft, space reactor, and science instruments. The contractor is responsible for the integration of government-owned and provided technologies into the spacecraft. They are also responsible for assembly, integration, and testing of the space system in accordance with applicable government requirements.The government team will co-design the spacecraft with the contractor. NASA will supply the launch vehicle. The Department of Energy's Office of Naval Reactors, Washington, will own and be responsible for the space reactor.Nice. This was a mission that needed to go forward -- tight budget times or no. Nuclear power may be the best answer for reaching the solar system's outer rim. And the "Galileo spacecraft found evidence that Jupiter's large icy moons appear to have three ingredients considered essential for life: water, energy and the necessary chemical contents," NASA notes.

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