Dubbed ‘Bruie’, which stands for Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration, it has been developed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) in Pasadena and been shipped to Antarctica for testing.
Kevin Hand, JPL lead scientist on the Bruie project, believes Europa and Enceladus are the best chance of finding life. “The ice shells covering these oceans serve as a window into what’s below, and the chemistry of the ice could help feed life within those oceans,” he said.
“On Earth, the ice covering our polar oceans serves a similar role, and our team is interested in what is happening where the water meets the ice.”
Three feet long and equipped with two rigid wheels to grip the underside of the ice-sheet, the floating rover can take images and collect data at the crucial region where water and ice meet; the ice-water interface.
“We’ve found that life often lives at interfaces, both the sea bottom and the ice-water interface at the top,” added lead engineer Andy Klesh.
“Most submersibles have a challenging time investigating this area, as ocean currents might cause them to crash, or they would waste power maintaining position. Bruie, however, uses buoyancy to remain anchored against the ice and is impervious to most currents.”
The rover can also power down, turning itself on to take measurements, meaning it could spend months observing conditions under the ice.
Over the coming weeks, scientists will drill holes into the ice and send the tethered rover down to test its suite of gadgets, including two high-definition live cameras. The rover will also carry several instruments to measure parameters related to life, such as dissolved oxygen, water salinity, pressure and temperature.