NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory is currently developing a concept that would allow potential planetary missions chase intriguing clues in the subsurface oceans.
As per Nasa Jet propulsion website they are working on a project through which NASA can Explorer the water elements under the Surface of the planet As per NASA team A swarm of robots the size of a cellphone could glide through the water below the thick icy shells of Saturn’s moon Enceladus or Jupiter’s moon Europa, searching for signs of alien life. The tiny robots would be packed inside an ice-melting probe, which would penetrate the frozen crust. They would then be released underwater and swim far away from their mothercraft in search of new worlds.
Nasa also tells that this vison is created by their robotics mechanical engineer Ethan Schaler at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California,
His Sensing With Independent Micro-Swimmers concept (SWIM), was recently awarded $600,000. It is Phase 2 funding by the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program. This funding follows his 2021 $125,000 award in Phase 1 NIAC funding for feasibility and design options.
Schaler stated, “My idea was to take miniaturized robots and apply them interestingly new ways to explore our solar system.” “We can explore more ocean water with a group of small robots that swim, and we can improve our measurements by having several robots in the same area collecting data.”
The SWIM concept may be ambitious, but its purpose would be to reduce risks and enhance science. The communications tether would connect the cryobot to the surface-based landing craft, which in turn would be the point of contact for mission controllers on Earth. The cryobot will likely not be able to travel beyond the point where ocean meets ice due to its tethered approach and limited space for large propulsion systems.
“What if after all the years you spent in an ocean, you get through the ice shell at the wrong spot?” “What if there are signs of life elsewhere but not in the area you entered the ocean?” stated SWIM team scientist Samuel Howell, also a member of Europa Clipper. “By having these robot swarms, we can look ‘over there” to explore more of our environment than any single cryobot.
The SWIM also told that the idea behind the SWIM concept is come from NASA’s Ingenuity Mars Helicopter , By the help of Helicopter “The helicopter extends the reach of the rover, and the images it is sending back are context to help the rover understand how to explore its environment,” same as the the Guided vehicle carry the Swim robot and
SWIM would allow data to be collected away from the cryobot’s blazing hot nuclear battery. The probe would depend on SWIM to melt a downward pathway through the ice. Schaler explained that once the battery is in the ocean, the heat would form a thermal bubble. This would slowly melt the ice and possibly cause reactions that could alter the water’s chemical composition.
The SWIM robots can also “flock” together, mimicking fish and birds. This reduces errors in data due to their overlapped measurements. This group data could show gradients, such as temperature or salinity increasing across the collective sensors of the swarm and pointing towards the source of the signal.
“If there is a gradient of energy or chemical, then that’s when life can begin to emerge.” Schaler stated that we would have to move upstream from the cryobot in order to sense them.
Each robot would be equipped with its own onboard computer and propulsion system. There will also be an ultrasound communications system and a simple sensor for temperature, pressure, acidity, salinity and pH. Schaler’s Phase 2 study will include chemical sensors that monitor for biomarkers, which are signs of life.
This SWIM Project is in Very Early Stage .
The early-stage SWIM concept, which is not part of any NASA missions, envisions wedge-shaped robots that measure approximately 5 inches (12 cm) long and 3 to 5 cubic inches (60-75 cubic centimeters). Fourteen of them could fit into a section of a cryobot measuring four inches (10 centimeters long) and measuring 10 inches (25 cm) in diameter. This would take up about 15% of the science payload volume. This would allow for the use of more powerful, but smaller, science instruments that can gather data on the long journey through ice and make stationary measurements in the ocean.
The Europa Clipper mission is scheduled for launch in 2024. It will gather detailed science through multiple flybys using a large number of instruments once it arrives on the Jovian Moon in 2030. Future-oriented concepts for cryobots to explore such ocean worlds are being explored by NASA’s Scientific Exploration Subsurface Acces Mechanism for Europa ( ESAME) program as well as other NASA technology development programs.