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Underwater NASA ice robot to undergo trials in Antarctica


An underwater NASA robot that could be a precursor for technology used to search for life on distant moons will undergo trials in Antarctica.

The NASA Logo Signage at the Kennedy Space Centre in Florida. Source: istock.com

Scientists from the space agency will travel to Australia's Casey Research Station today to begin weeks of tests on the buoyant rover.

The device is designed to travel on the underside of ice sheets, something that is hoped can one day be done on Jupiter's icy moon Europa.

NASA scientist Kevin Hand said late 1990s missions found strong evidence of a salty ocean beneath Europa's icy crust.

The interface between the ice and the water is where life is most likely to exist, he added.

The robot, which has already been tested in the Arctic and Alaska, has two independent wheels and is more energy efficient than similar-sized submarines.

"We'll trial the endurance of the rover, particularly how long the batteries can last in extreme conditions and how it handles a variety of terrain," NASA engineer Andy Klesh said yesterday.

But any search for life near Jupiter is decades away.

Scientists will have to first figure out how to transport necessary equipment which can operate hundreds of degrees below zero to the planet's moon and drill through ice 10 kilometres thick.

Until then, the underwater robot could be used to gather information about the conditions of sea ice and ice sheets on earth.

"We hope to some day leave it out for an entire winter or perhaps an entire year so it can serve as a robot vehicle constantly collecting data," NASA scientist Dr Kevin Hand said.

"By studying earth's ice-water interface we can being to understand the dynamics that make life possible at that interface."

NASA is planning a mission in 2025 to fly past Europa and collect data about potential landing sites.