The University of Western Australia and NASA have wrapped up testing of its autonomous underwater robot at Australia’s Casey research station in Antarctica, after being previously fielded in the Arctic and Alaska. Known as BRUIE (Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration), the robot is destined to explore other planetary bodies of water within the solar system, including Jupiter’s Europa and Saturn’s Enceladus moons. The robot has been in the testing phase since 2012 and is tasked to look for biosignatures beneath the ice of other worlds, as well as gather topography data about the ice while submerged.
The researchers designed BRUIE to be buoyant underwater and equipped its 1-meter cylindrical body with a pair of 10-inch studded wheels to better grip the ice while rolling along its icy underside. The soon-to-be autonomous robot is outfitted with a series of cameras and lights for imaging and navigation, and the engineers are expected to add wireless communication capabilities to navigate without a tether remotely.
NASA is expected to launch an interplanetary mission, dubbed Europa Clipper, in the next several years that will orbit the icy moon and take detailed scans of its surface over a series of flybys. The interplanetary vehicle will lug a payload of scientific instruments, including cameras and spectrometers, to garner high-resolution images scientists can use to determine its composition. It will also carry ice-penetrating radar to determine the ice’s thickness, and whether it has surface lakes similar to those found in underneath Antarctica’s ice layer.
If all checks out, NASA could follow up the Europa Clipper mission with another that would deploy an updated version of the autonomous robot to search for life and sample the gases trapped below Europa’s icy surface.