An scientist from The University of Western Australia’s Faculty of Engineering and Mathematical Sciences is leading a team of four researchers to trial a space robot in Antarctica this summer. If successful, the trial could see the robot deployed to Jupiter’s ice moon, Europa, to look for signs of life.
As part of the trial being coordinated by The Australian Antarctic Program and NASA, the robot will be tested for its ability to operate at extreme depths and temperatures, for long durations, and communicate through thick ice.
NASA’s Galileo mission to Jupiter in the late 1990s investigated the Jupiter’s moons including Europa and found strong evidence there was a salty ocean beneath Europa’s thick icy crust.
UWA’s Dr Dan Arthur said water was one of the key ingredients for life so Europa was the most likely location where alien life might exist in the solar system.
“When we figure out how to penetrate the 10-20 kilometre layer of ice on Europa, this robot will has potential to produce some incredibly interesting findings, including whether there is life outside of Earth,” Dr Arthur said.
The robot is a buoyant rover with two independent wheels to manoeuvre along the under-side of thick ice.
Dr Arthur is joined by three NASA scientists including Dr Kevin Hand, NASA’s Deputy Chief Scientist for Solar System Exploration.
The rover has already been tested in the Arctic and Alaska, but this will be its first Antarctic trial.