Space & Astronomy
'Cryobot' could tunnel beneath Europa's ice
By T.K. Randall
June 15, 2015 · 4 comments
An artist's impression of a cryobot exploring Europa's ocean. Image Credit: NASA
Scientists are developing a robot designed to explore the ocean beneath Jupiter's icy moon.
With NASA planning to send a spacecraft to Europa in the not-too-distant future, efforts have been underway to design a probe capable of venturing down in to the liquid water ocean below its surface.
Getting a probe down beneath the ice is certainly no easy task - not only would it have to land on Europa first but it would then need to somehow burrow down through several miles of thick ice and remain operational once it hits the water.
"One major challenge is how such a probe would be able to communicate to the surface once it starts to descend," said planetary scientist Louise Prockter. "The cryobot would also need to be able to withstand significant pressures underneath the ice."
"We're still a long way from having the technology to do that."
Nonetheless explorer and engineer Bill Stone, founder of robot design company Stone Aerospace, believes that he has come up a device that could actually make such a mission possible.
Known as VALKYRIE (Very deep Autonomous Laser-powered Kilowatt-class Yo-yoing Robotic Ice Explorer), the sophisticated cryobot uses the heat from lasers to make its way down through the ice while a fiber-optic cable connected to the device maintains power and communications.
While the current 5 kilowatt version is a lot smaller than what would be needed in an actual mission to Europa the concept has been successfully tested and does appear to work.
"We've been doing a 5 kilowatt test only because of budget limitations," said Stone. "I can build, today, a 250 kilowatt laser-powered cryobot. It would cost more money but we could illustrate it in Antarctica and show that we can go through kilometers of ice."
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