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  • Right now, you're looking at a rendering of a nuclear-powered tunneling robot designed

  • to find life on Europa.

  • Look at that big ol' alaskan bull worm!

  • At the American Geophysical Union's conference in December 2018, scientists gathered from

  • around the world to present their concepts for future space missions.

  • There were dragonfly inspired drones for Titan, probes designed to take the temperature of

  • Io's volcanoes, but perhaps the coolest of them all, was a tunneling worm robot designed

  • to bore through Europa's icy shell!

  • The bot was designed by NASA's COMPASS team, a group of engineers tasked with ideating

  • system designs for space exploration missions.

  • And Jupiter's icy moon, Europa, is a prime target because, well, there might be life

  • there.

  • For years, scientists have suspected Europa has an iron core, a rocky mantle, and a global

  • ocean of liquid water.

  • And, in 2013, the Hubble Space Telescope observed possible evidence of plumes of water on Europa's

  • surface, suggesting it's geologically active.

  • Scientists even think there could be hydrothermal vents on its seafloor supporting all kinds

  • of alien life!

  • So obviously we want to go there and take a swim.

  • But the oceans lie beneath an estimated 15-25 kilometers of ice, which makes exploring them

  • a challenge.

  • That's where the tunneling robot comes in.

  • About 5 meters in length, the robot is covered with hotplates that would melt the ice during

  • its descent into the deep unknown.

  • Onboard, the bot would carry all sorts of instruments and equipment allowing it to take

  • samples as it goes.

  • It would also have cables or a flotation device to keep it from sinking once it reaches Europa's

  • ocean, so it can just hang there, stickin' its nose into the alien bikini bottom.

  • All the data gathered would then be transmitted via fiber optic cables back to a lander at

  • the surface.

  • Oh yeah, and the whole thing is either powered by General Purpose Heat Source bricks containing

  • plutonium, or an onboard nuclear reactor.

  • Rad.

  • General Purpose Heat Source modules rely on the radioactive decay of plutonium, and they've

  • been used frequently in NASA missions.

  • But the U.S. hasn't launched a nuclear fission reactor since 1965.

  • For the last few years though, they've been revisiting fission with their Kilopower project,

  • an effort to find affordable nuclear fission systems that could provide the increased power

  • needed for space travel.

  • Kilopower systems are already being tested, so it's possible a future iteration could

  • be used for the nuclear worm bot.

  • Which brings us to the question, what's the timeline for this project?

  • When will the big worm get to fly?

  • Well, NASA's Europa Clipper mission is slated for sometime in the 2020s.

  • But as of now, that mission only includes an orbiter, and for the tunneling worm to

  • be used, there would need to be lander.

  • NASA has hinted at a possible Europa lander mission, but there's nothing concrete yet.

  • That being said, the probe was commissioned by NASA, so there's clearly interest in

  • the feasibility of a design like this.

  • And with the tantalizing possibility of finding life on Europa, it's probably only a matter

  • of time before we try to peek under its shell.

  • But in the meantime- I guess we can hope a Hollywood director has seen these sketches

  • and is gonna make a kick-ass sci-fi movie about tunneling alien robots??

  • Yeah, I would definitely watch that.

  • Want more videos about insane space mission designs from the COMPASS Team?

  • Let us know in the comments!

  • As always, thanks for watching, and I'll see you next time on Seeker.

Right now, you're looking at a rendering of a nuclear-powered tunneling robot designed

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This Nuclear Robot Could Tunnel for Alien Life on Europa

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    林宜悉   posted on 2020/03/30
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