NASA Prepares to Test Underwater Rover in Icy Conditions

NASA Prepares to Test Underwater Rover in Icy Conditions

The Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration or BRUIE has been one of the major projects at NASA or some years now. The space agency has decided to take a prototype of the rover to Antarctica to test it in environments most similar to this moon

Fremont, CA: Doggy paddles are not adequate enough to explore the hidden depths of the icy surfaces of some of the solar system's most intriguing moons like Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus. NASA engineers are now working on an underwater rover that can tackle the challenges presented by these moons and more. The Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration or BRUIE has been one of the major projects at NASA or some years now. The space agency has decided to take a prototype of the rover to Antarctica to test it in environments most similar to this moon.

"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," Kevin Hand, lead scientist on the BRUIE project at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California said. "Here on Earth, the ice covering our polar oceans serves a similar role, and our team is particularly interested in what is happening where the water meets the ice."

The tests will take place at Australia's Casey research station along the coast of Antarctica far south of Australia. BRUIE will spend a month exploring both the ocean and inland lakes. The rover has been designed to focus on where the top of the water meets the bottom of the ice. "We've found that life often lives at interfaces, both the sea bottom and the ice-water interface at the top," Andy Klesh, lead engineer on the BRUIE project, said. "Most submersibles have a challenging time investigating this area, as ocean currents might cause them to crash, or they would waste too much power maintaining position."

The rover is designed to tackle the challenges using buoyancy, using which it crawls along the bottom of the ice held up by the denser water below. The rover consists of a three feet long bar with a wheel at both the ends. NASA's rover is also designed to turn itself on and off as needed between gathering measurements for scientists. This feature allows the rover to stay locked below ice for more extended periods without having to recharge. "We only really know how to detect life similar to that on Earth," said Dan Berisford, a mechanical engineer on the project. "So, it's possible that very different microbes might be difficult to recognize."

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