Exploring the Oceans of Europa with Biologically-Inspired Underwater Vehicles

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D. W. Allen et al (2015), JBIS, 68, pp.251-264

Refcode: 2015.68.251
Keywords: Europa, Icy-Moons, Planetary Exploration, Ice Probes, Autonomous Underwater Vehicles, Underwater Gliders

This paper discusses the feasibility of a mission to deploy autonomous underwater vehicles to the subsurface ocean of Europa, an ice-covered moon of Jupiter roughly the size of Earth's moon. Europa's ocean potentially contains more than twice the volume of water as all of the oceans on Earth [1]. This liquid ocean may support life, presenting a tempting target for exploration. However, the icy shell presents a significant obstacle to the exploration of the ocean. Once the ice is penetrated, exploring the ocean presents its own challenges, most notably the ocean's size and the lack of known landmarks for navigation. This mission design enables the exploration of the ocean of Europa and the return of the data to Earth. This mission utilizes radioisotope powered melt probes, called "cryobots," to penetrate the ice and deliver ocean exploring robots, called "hydrobots," to the ocean. The proposed hydrobot concept is an evolution of present-day underwater gliders, one which mimics the efficient swimming and gliding techniques of marine mammals.

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