NASA could not get any cooler. It’s now steps away from sending an underwater robot ‘Buoyant Rover’ to explore the depths of its giant oceans to look for signs of life. The mission, titled Europa Under-Ice Exploration (BRUIE) aims to collect data to help scientists understand the important interface between ice and water.
Andy Klesh, principal investigator for the rover at JPL and volunteer diver at the science center,said the buoyant rover can also be used here on Earth to study the Arctic and Antarctic.
For now, the rover rests at bottom of an 188,000-gallon aquatic tank – very much similar to a bright orange garibaldi fish. The rover’s presence 24 feet (7.3 meters) underwater at the science center this week helped researchers at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, test the innovative rover’s systems.
The rover is said to float and also has wheels. Its wheels would roll along on the underside of ice, as if the ice were the ground.
‘A lot of what we do in deep space is applicable to the ocean,’ Klesh said. ‘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.’
‘Our work aims to build a bridge between exploring extreme environments in our own ocean and the exploration of distant, potentially habitable oceans elsewhere in the solar system,’ said Kevin Hand, co-investigator for the rover. The first iteration of this rover was a two-wheeled vehicle that the team took to Barrow, Alaska, in 2012.
After the team sawed a hole in the ice, they placed the rover underwater, totally untethered. Back at JPL, engineers drove the rover remotely. ‘This was the first time an under-ice vehicle had been operated via satellite,’ Klesh said. The new version is longer, has a thicker body and is designed for ocean depths up to about 700 feet (200 meters).