Concept of the crybot (via Stone Aerospace)
Exploring other planetary bodies is both costly and risky for human explorers. While money is a big factor in celestial exploration, the time and resources it takes for a human to travel extraplanetary is the biggest factor. How would we get the fuel to travel back to earth? What about food and what toll would it have on human bodies travelling that long, even to our closet neighbor Mars? These are some significant hurdles for us as humans, but not so much so for our mechanical robot friends when it comes to other-world exploration.
This is precisely what Stone Aerospace engineers are looking to do with Project VALKYRIE. The project, led by Bill Stone, is a collaborative effort that includes participants from CU, UCSC, LSU and Los Gatos Research to send a robot to explore the oceans on Jupiter’s moon Europa. The robot, called ‘cryobot’, the team will use is a 6 ft by 10 in cylinder that’s equipped with a high-powered fiber-optic 5000 watt laser to cut through Europa’s icy crust enabling the robot to get to the water underneath the surface.
The power source for the laser (unknown at this time) will remain on the moon’s surface tethered to miles of fiber-optic cabling, which would allow the robot to navigate the large sections of ocean. Cryobot will also feature an astrobiology sensor that will enable the robot to make an ‘educated’ guess of sorts at taking core samples that might contain life. It will also deploy a series of sensors to collect additional information for future return missions with a payload tailored for that particular mission. NASA has recently given the team $4-million in funding to field-test the autonomous robots capabilities at an Alaskan glacier where it will penetrate the ice at depths of 10 to 50 meters.
Final testing will then be done in Greenland where crybot will descend to depths of up to 200 meters using the fiber-optic laser. Successful testing will lead to a full-scale dress rehearsal on a South Pole lake which will approximate the feasibility of sending a science payload to Europa in the near future.