Europa, Jupiter’s moon, is believed to be the alien world most likely to be capable of hosting life in our solar system. The icy moon is strongly suspected of having a vast subsurface ocean that has a rocky floor and sea salt that forms when water from the underground ocean interacts with the surface of the moon.
It is because of these characteristics that Europa could prove to host microbial life, and maybe even sustain human life with the right adjustments. In a quest for answers, NASA has started preparations for a spacecraft to be sent to the icy moon to gather more information. The spacecraft is expected to launch sometime in the 2020s and make at least 45 flybys of Jupiter’s moon.
One of the prototype vehicles meant to help the space agency explore Europa, as well as other potential alien worlds, was just unveiled – an underwater robot dubbed “BRUIE” (Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration) designed specifically to collect data on underwater and icy environments found on alien worlds.
The machine was revealed to the public earlier this month, on June 22, 2015, when Andy Klesh, JPL scientists and principal investigator for the robot, started testing the technology inside an aquarium over at Jet Propulsion Laboratory of the California Science Center, at an underwater depth of 24 feet (7.3 meters), surrounded by a multitude of colorful fish who did not seem bother by the rover at all.
The underwater robot can move by either floating or driving on the underside of ice as the machine also has wheels. But it’s not the first rover of its kind. Another prototype was previously controlled remotely and tested in Alaska back in 2012. What makes this one special is that it’s the first one to be operated via satellite.
Andy Klesh gave a statement stressing that the rover could very well be used to explore the Earth’s oceans in addition to Europa’s because “A lot of what we do in deep space is applicable to the ocean. This is an early prototype for vehicles that could one day go to Europa and other planetary bodies with a liquid ocean covered by ice. It’s ideal for traveling under the ice shelf of an icy world”.
He went on to add that the space agency’s goal is to built a bridge between the exploration of extreme environments here, in the Earth’s oceans, and the exploration of oceans found on distant alien worlds that have potentially habitable environments.
The robot is developed to operate at ocean depths that go up to roughly 700 feet (200 meters). It’s equipped with computers, sensors, cameras, as well as communication systems, and NASA says it’s similar to their Mars Cube One that’s set to explore Mars next year, in 2016. It is longer and has a thicker body than the prototype which explored Alaska back in 2012. It also has body parts that rotate around.
The scientists are now working on making the robot smarter by increasing its autonomy as well as teaching it how to better avoid hazards. The goal is to eventually let BRUIE explore a frozen lake all on its own in order to see how well the technology fairs.
Visitors who came to the California Science Center could enjoy the sight of the robot in action, and a NASA representative was very excited by the fact, stating that these children could end up being the ones to build the machines that will someday explore alien worlds.
Image Source: nasa.gov