Swarms of Swimming Robots may Soon Explore Alien Seas

By Aazam

NASA has awarded $600,000 in phase II funding for the Innovative Advanced Concepts programme to develop innovative methods for finding extraterrestrial aquatic life

The funding is intended to eventually enable scientists to send swarms of tiny swimming robots into the oceans of moons like Europa and Enceladus

Microrobotics expert Ethan Schaler and his colleagues at JPL and Georgia Tech want to send an army of cell phone-sized microrobots.

Schaler tells Astronomy that SWIM is the next cryobotic mission because cryobots can now be used for ocean-access missions

The majority of cryobots are built to bore or melt through miles of solid ice in order to deliver a science package to the ocean below

A tethered chain of sensor nodes—essentially a long kite with steerable parts to steer in the downstream current—was examined

This packaging technique allows the miniature submarines to fit in a 5-liter area meant for one science instrument

Each boat would have 1.5 to 3 hours to detect salinity, temperature, physical or chemical gradients in the water column, and look for life

To study ocean dynamics at various times of the day and night, the small subs would be launched one at a time

Variations that follow the day/night cycle can act as powerful biomarkers, or hints to the existence of life, in the search for it

Exploring ocean worlds like Europa or Enceladus with the aid of an alien armada has exciting potential

Some of the most difficult engineering problems in the history of spacecraft arise when exploring a distant moon's sea, but the potential rewards are also enormous