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NASA-backed project developing technology to explore Europa

The project is using an Antarctic ice shelf as a proxy staging ground for Europa. The project is using an Antarctic ice shelf as a proxy staging ground for Europa.

According to the “Planetary Habitability At Tech” website of Georgia Tech Research Institute, a team of scientists from the university is collaborating with NASA and researchers at other universities on a project to examine ways of exploring the liquid water ocean that exists beneath the icy outer shell of Jupiter’s moon Europa.

The Sub-Ice Marine and Planetary-Analog Ecosystems (SIMPLE) project is being carried out under the auspices of NASA’s Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets initiative. SIMPLE is using the McMurdo Ice Shelf in Antarctica as a proxy for Europa’s icy ocean.

SIMPLE will entail three field seasons in Antarctica. Season 1 took place in 2012 and served as a test run for the team’s activities on the ice shelf. Season 2 took place in 2014 and saw the team explore the environment above and below the ice shelf. Season 2 laid the groundwork for Season 3, which will take place in 2015 and will entail most of the scientific operations.

SIMPLE involves testing four pieces of technology. The Submersible Capable of under-Ice Navigation and Imaging (SCINI) is an ROV designed to recognize macrofaunal lifeforms on the sea floor. SCINI is capable of diving to a depth of 300 meters, although an upgraded version, SCINI-Deep, will be able to reach 1,500 meters. Icefin is a small automated craft designed for portability and to carry a battery of instruments to examine the water column, ice, and the deep benthic setting. Icefin is capable of reaching depths of 1,500 meters and can readily be modified to hold a variety of instruments.

Artemis is a large autonomous craft capable of studying the water and ice, as well as microbes found in the ice. Artemis can reach depths of 1,000 meters and can survey around 15 kilometers along the interface zone between the ice and the ocean. The HiCARS-2 airborne geophysical platform is equipped with ice-penetrating radar and can take readings in laser altimetry, gravimetry, magnetometry, and imaging.

Andrew McDonald

Andrew McDonald

Staff Writer
Andrew McDonald, PhD is a vertebrate paleontologist and writer. He received his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, and continues to study dinosaurs and other prehistoric life.
About Andrew McDonald (727 Articles)
Andrew McDonald, PhD is a vertebrate paleontologist and writer. He received his doctorate from the University of Pennsylvania, and continues to study dinosaurs and other prehistoric life.