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Space & Astronomy

Nuclear 'tunnelbot' could explore Europa

By T.K. Randall
December 17, 2018 · Comment icon 10 comments



What lies beneath Europa's icy crust ? Image Credit: NASA
NASA has proposed a new mission to delve deep beneath the icy crust of Jupiter's moon Europa.
When it comes to seeking out signs of extraterrestrial life within our own solar system, no target has proven more tantalizing than Europa - a world thought to be home to a potentially habitable ocean of liquid water hidden deep underneath a thick icy exterior shell.

Now NASA's Glenn Research center's multidisciplinary COMPASS team has unveiled a proposal for an ambitious new mission that could see a probe melt its way down through the ice to search for evidence of life in Europa's subterranean ocean.

The concept study, which looks at the technologies that would be needed to undertake such a mission, suggests equipping the probe with radioactive 'bricks' to generate heat.

A separate lander to which the probe would be tethered could relay its findings back to Earth.
The mission would be large, expensive and complex, but theoretically doable with today's technology.

"We didn't worry about how our tunnelbot would make it to Europa or get deployed into the ice," said Andrew Dombard from the University of Illinois in Chicago. "We just assumed it could get there and we focused on how it would work during descent to the ocean."

Whether the mission will actually be undertaken however remains unclear - especially given the cost and the potential for contamination given that the probe will contain a nuclear power source.

As things stand, there are currently two orbital missions planned for Europa - NASA's Europa Clipper which will launch in 2023 and ESA's Ocean Worlds Exploration Program which is planned for 2022.

If the proposed tunnelbot does become a reality, it is unlikely to launch until much later.

Source: New Zealand Herald | Comments (10)


Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #1 Posted by AllPossible 4 years ago
That's actually really cool.. I don't understand, why is funding so low for projects like this. Government needs to stop all the free welfare and medicaid to people who don't appreciate it anyway and start funding cool missions like this... So many pos people out there who soak up the system, stop spending on them and do some cool space exploration ****.. Sorry folks just woke up and ranting lol
Comment icon #2 Posted by paperdyer 4 years ago
Well they'd need a space ship to get here.
Comment icon #3 Posted by paperdyer 4 years ago
Funding may be low due to the extent of new   technology/equipment needed.  Some other projects might be deemed more viable/closer to reality than others.
Comment icon #4 Posted by thelion318 4 years ago
Cool they can scare the crap out of Europeans(?) and pre-prep the place for final desecration by humans. I love how other planets are now
Comment icon #5 Posted by Gecks 4 years ago
Do we have rules to follow in regards to the possible contamination we can leave on other planets?
Comment icon #6 Posted by Seti42 4 years ago
Medicaid isn't a problem. Well, hospitals, doctors, and medical supply companies gouging it is...  I totally agree on "free welfare" though. Cut the military budget and raise the taxes on the wealthy and big businesses. The only "welfare" in the US is the government helping the rich; people who don't need any help.   
Comment icon #7 Posted by Nnicolette 4 years ago
Honestly its just crazy to me that people worry so much about the tiny little percentage that goes to helping people who need it but dont acknowledge the majority that goes into politicians pockets and the war machine. Your mad that a family that couldn't afford it got food to eat but not when the money is spent on sending arms overseas or buying the govenor a new jet?  That being said i strongly agree with the first couple sentences.
Comment icon #8 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 years ago
Can we please keep the subject on topic and relevant. We have a US Politics forum for discussions on U.S. political issues which is the appropriate place for discussions on Medicaid and other non-space related budgetary issues. Thank you.
Comment icon #9 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 4 years ago
Yes, in fact NASA has a whole department dedicated to it: NASA Office of Planetary Protection  
Comment icon #10 Posted by Gecks 4 years ago
Thanks Waspie, a very interesting read. 


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