Over the next few months, the Australian Antarctic Program will be collaborating with NASA in order to test an under-ice robot which may potentially be used in a space mission to look for signs of extra-terrestrial life.
It is said that NASA engineers are already working on an underwater rover aspiring to tackle the challenges posed by ocean worlds like Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus. The robot in particular is called Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration or BRUIE. In fact, NASA is taking a prototype of the rover to Antarctica in order to test in the most similar environment to those moons found on Earth.
NASA scientist from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr. Kevin Hand stated that
The ice shells covering these distant oceans serve as a window into the oceans below, and the chemistry of the ice could help feed life within those oceans.
The rover focuses on where the top of the water meets the bottom of the ice and the tests will take place at Australia’s Casey research station along the coast of Antarctica far south of Australia, where BRUIE will spend a month exploring both the ocean and inland lakes.
The rover has already been tested in the Arctic and Alaska, but this will be it’s first Antarctic trial. Indeed, a team of four will spend three weeks at Australia’s Casey research station, testing the robotic systems under the sea-ice. Klesh said that “we will trial the endurance of the rover, particularly how long the batteries can last in extreme field conditions and how it handles a variety of terrain.”
In fact, the robot, designed for a future Europa mission, is a buoyant rover with two independent wheels to maneuver along the under-side of the ice. Engineer from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr Andy Klesh, said that the meter-long rover will be able to roam around taking samples and pictures.
He said that
the rover is unique in that it uses buoyancy to stick to the underside of the ice and move upside-down using wheels, so it can get up close to the ice-water interface for sensitive measurements,
further adding that “the robot can also stay in the one spot for long periods without having to expend energy like a submarine does.”
Whatsoever, it is mentioned that the challenge on Europa will be drilling through a 10-20-kilometer thick icy crust before the water can be reached to deploy the rover.
NASA plans to launch the Europa Clipper mission in 2025, and the spacecraft is expected to take several years to reach its destination. Once there, it will take orbital measurements of the moon’s surface, to help identify landing sites and understand the global ice dynamics and composition.
In July, Scientists from the US Navy have joined forces with NASA Johnson Space Center to take a Naval Surface Warfare Center Panama City Division (NSWC PCD) technology, originally designed for diving, from seabed to space.
The Aquarius Reef Base, operated by Florida International University, is the only undersea laboratory in the world located 5.4 miles off Key Largo in the Florida Keys National Marine Sanctuary, 62 feet below the surface.
Moreover, NASA has previously released an image in which it depicts ships sailing through the Atlantic Ocean, producing bright cloud trails. These clouds, known as ship tracks, are formed when water vapor condenses around tiny particles of pollution that ships emit as exhaust. As NASA said, ship tracks typically are formed in areas where low-lying stratus and cumulus clouds are present.
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