Tiny submersible may one day explore ice-covered extraterrestrial oceans
Although Saturn's moon Enceladus and Jupiter's moon Europa both have ice-covered surfaces, it is believed that oceans may exist beneath that ice. The TRIPLE-nanoAUV 2 project is aimed at getting an uncrewed submersible into those oceans, to search for life.
The collaborative effort is being coordinated by the MARUM (Zentrum für MARine UMweltwissenschaften) Center for Marine Environmental Sciences, at Germany's University of Bremen. TRIPLE stands for "Technologies for Rapid Ice Penetration and subglacial Lake Exploration," while AUV is an existing acronym for "Autonomous Underwater Vehicle."
The torpedo-shaped craft will measure about 50 cm long by 10 cm wide (20 by 4 in) with its wings folded back. In this configuration it will make its way down through the ice, encapsulated within an ice-melting probe. Following it down will be a cylindrical docking station, which will remain tethered to a lunar lander on the surface.
Once the nanoAUV gets through the ice it will proceed to autonomously explore the surrounding area of the ocean, capturing data via cameras and multiple other sensors. At regular intervals it will make its way back to the dangling docking station, where it recharge its batteries and relay its recorded data up to the lander for transmission to Earth.
Plans call for the full TRIPLE-nanoAUV 2 system to be tested under the Antarctic ice shelf near the Neumayer III Station in the spring of 2026. The encapsulated craft will have to melt its way down through 4,000 meters (13,123 ft) of ice, in order to explore subglacial lakes which are believed to exist beneath.
"Such nano-vehicles can help to provide a better overall understanding of marine ecosystems," said the project leader, MARUM's Prof. Ralf Bachmayer. "The new autonomous system is unique and should make it possible in the future to study the global liquid-water ocean below the icy surfaces of Jupiter’s moon Europa and Saturn’s moon Enceladus."