Ice Fracture Explorer: theoretical model for a mission to Europa

Paul Raven @ 16-08-2010

Joseph Shoer of Quantum Rocketry doesn’t post all that often, but every now and again he puts out a gem. Here he is imagining what you’d need to do to put together a robotic mission to explore Europa, the Jovian moon that’s mostly ocean with a thick icy crust, complete with little diagrams of what the modules might look like:

As Jupiter rises overhead, its tides will pull apart the two sides of the ice fracture. The IFE will be suspended in the middle as the crack opens, with nothing below it until the ocean 1-10 km down! At this point, the IFE will drop its deflated cushions and begin to deploy a smaller penetrator vehicle from its underside. The penetrator is a small, two-stage vehicle with two instrument packages, a hard-shell body, and a data line connecting it to the IFE’s main bus.

Pure hard-SF space geekery of the best type. As Shoer points out, manned missions to Europa are pretty much a non-starter; even if we could get people there, the radiation would roast them pretty quickly. But throw some transhuman moravec explorers into the mix, and you’ve got the start of a great story…


Solar system looking more resource-rich by the day

Paul Raven @ 12-10-2009

There’s water on Mars, and there’s water on the Moon. And now there’s water out in the asteroid belt, too – if spectral analysis of the rock known as 24 Themis is to believed, that is [via SlashDot]:

Analyses of the sunlight reflected off the asteroid also show that organic compounds are widespread on the surface, he added, including polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons, CH2 and CH3.

The new finding corroborates earlier observations of the same asteroid by astronomers Andrew S. Rivkin and Joshua Emery who also used the Infrared Telescope Facility. Over several years, Rivkin and Emery had found evidence of frozen water in single spots on 24 Themis but had not studied the asteroid as it made one entire rotation. Together, the two teams’ findings reveal that the asteroid’s entire surface is coated with frozen water, Campins says.

[…]

The scientists say these new findings support the theory that asteroids brought both water and organic compounds to the early Earth, helping lay the foundation for life on the planet.

Well, maybe, but it also supports another theory: the asteroid belt is actually the broken remains of Earth’s twin planet which was destroyed by Xenu in a fit of pique OMFG!!!1

Ahem.

The destructive rage of entirely fictional deities aside, it’s becoming clear that the necessities of life – if not life itself – are more abundant out beyond the gravity well than we thought. So maybe we should lend more credence to speculative work like that of planetary scientist Richard Greenfield Greenberg, who theorizes that not only is Europa’s ocean comprised of water, but that it may be more oxygen-rich than those of Earth, meaning there could be all sorts of weird multicellular lifeforms lurking out there waiting to be discovered.

Isn’t it high time we went out and looked?


The search for life on Europa begins here on Earth

Edward Willett @ 13-02-2008

Europa

Although the search for extraterrestrial life in our solar system has focused on Mars for many years (and it still might be found there), increasing attention is now being paid to Jupiter’s moon Europa. That’s because the scientific consensus now is that Europa almost certainly boasts an ocean, hidden beneath a shell of ice.

Life on Earth originated in the ocean. Could life have similarly arisen in Europa’s ocean?

We’ll have to go there to find out. Both NASA and the European Space Agency are actively studying launching a mission to Europa within the next decade, but even before that happens, technologies that could help us explore beneath the ice shell are being tested here on Earth. (Via Universe Today.)

This week–February 11 to 15–researchers are testing the NASA-funded ENDURANCE (Environmentally Non-Disturbing Under-ice Robotic Antarctic Explorer), a robotic probe designed to swim on its own under ice, creating 3D maps of the underwater environment, collecting data on environmental conditions, and taking samples of microbial life. The testing is taking place in Lake Mendota on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, Madison; later this year, the probe will be shipped to Antarctica for tests in permanently frozen Lake Bonney.

Manwhile, a team of U.S., Russian and Asutrian scientists are already heading to Australia to look for life in another Antarctic lake, Lake Untersee. Always covered in ice, Lake Untersee has a pH level closer to that of bleach than regular lake water. It’s also the planet’s single largest natural source of methane. All of these things mean conditions there may well resemble conditions in Europa’s ocean and other locations in the outer solar system.

One question: is life found on Europa European, or Europaen? Copy editors want to know!

(Image: Courtesy NASA/JPL-Caltech.)

[tags]solar system, NASA, space exploration, extraterrestrial life, Europa[/tags]