Tiny submersible could search for life in Europa’s ocean

Posted on June 12, 2013
Artist concept of a miniature submarine exploring under the ice. Credit: Jonas Jonsson | Angstrom Space Technology Centre of Uppsala University

Artist concept of a miniature submarine exploring under the ice. Credit: Jonas Jonsson | Angstrom Space Technology Centre of Uppsala University

One of the first visitors to Jupiter’s icy moon of Europa could be a tiny submarine barely larger than two soda cans. The small craft might help strike the right balance between cost and capability for a robotic mission to look for alien life in the ocean beneath Europa’s icy crust.

The idea for the incredible shrinking submarine originally came from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in California and Uppsala University in Sweden. Such a vehicle would help keep mission costs low at a time when launching objects into space can still cost tens of thousands of dollars per kilogram. The mission concept also would have the advantage of only requiring a small borehole drilled through the ice covering Europa’s surface.

“What I think is exciting with this is to be able to explore previously inaccessible areas, to explore where no “man” has explored before,” said Jonas Jonsson, an engineer now with Stinger Ghaffarian Technologies Inc. at NASA Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

A paper study of the miniature submersible first came from NASA JPL researchers and Greger Thornell’s Swedish team at Angstrom Space Technology Centre of Uppsala University. But Jonsson, an original member of the Swedish team, refined the submersible concept by building and testing parts of it for his Ph.D. thesis.

Scientists have gravitated toward the possibility of life on Europa ever since the Voyager 2 mission first scouted out the icy moon from afar in 1979. Voyager 2’s images and data hinted at the existence of a liquid water ocean lurking beneath Europa’s icy surface—a huge body of water bigger than all of Earth’s oceans combined.

Read more at: Phys.org