NASA recently announced $600,000 to fund a study On the feasibility of sending swarms of miniature swimming robots (known as autonomous micro-swimmers) to explore the oceans beneath the ice layers of our solar system’s many “ocean worlds”. But don’t imagine metallic human beings swimming like frogs underwater. They will most likely be simple triangular shaped wedges.
Samples have already been taken from the ocean of Enceladus by Cassini spacecraft flying through columns of ice crystals that penetrate cracks in the ice. There are hopes that the task will be Europe Clipper NASA can find similar plumes to sample when it begins a series of flights close to Europa in 2030. However, entering the ocean to explore it may be much more informative than just smelling a freeze-dried sample.
This is where the concept Sensing by micro-independent swimmers (swimming). The idea is to land on Europa or Enceladus (which won’t be cheap or easy) in a place where the ice is relatively thin (not yet located) and use a radioactive probe to melt a 25cm-wide hole in the ocean – located hundreds or thousands of meters deep.
Once there, you’ll be shooting about four dozen 12-centimeter wedge-shaped micro-swimmers to explore. Its resistance will be much less than that of an autonomous underwater vehicle of 3.6 meters in length Boaty McBoatfacewith a range of 2,000 km, cut more than 100 km under the ice of Antarctica.
At this point, the swim is one of five “phase 2 studies” in a series of “advanced concepts” funded in the 2022 round of NASA’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program. Therefore, there are still high chances that swimming will become a reality, and a full-fledged mission has not been planned or funded.
Micro-swimming devices will communicate with the probe acoustically (via sound waves), and the probe will send its data via cable to the probe on the surface. The study will test prototypes in a test tank with all subsystems integrated.
Each young swimmer can explore perhaps only tens of meters from the probe, limited by battery power and their acoustic data link range, but they act as a flock that can map changes (in time or location) in temperature and salinity. They can even measure changes in the degree of turbidity of the water, which can indicate the direction to the nearest hydrothermal vent.
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