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Nasa proposes nuclear-powered submarine to search for life under Europe's ice

Europe can be the most likely place to host foreign life. Underneath its surface is a salty sea, warmed by the burial game of the moon's metal core. But how are you through archives? You melt yourself down with a nuclear-powered robot. At least, the proposal was added to the American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington DC this week. Nasa Glenn Research Center's multidisciplinary COMPASS team was founded to develop technology to overcome space exploration exploration. Europe is a big one. The ice covering this degree of Jupiter can be somewhere between 2 and 30km thick. [embedded content]Nuclear tunnelbot Planetaric scientists aren [embedded content]It is possible to open our understanding of how common life is in our universe, how resilient it is – and how it occurs. Not even some Europe has a sea. But all signs indicate that it has. The most enticing of these is the plumman of liquid water that periodically breaks out of its surface. The COMPASS team has conducted a concept study on technology that can pierce the ice with a series of sensors and send data that it collects back to earth. The best option, as they argue, is a nuclear-powered submarine. Nuclear power packs most energy in a small space. And it does not even need to be built into a nuclear reactor – but it was one of the concept designs. In its simplest form, radioactive "bricks" simply radiate a heat source in front of a tubular probe which then gradually decreases…

Europe can be the most likely place to host foreign life. Underneath its surface is a salty sea, warmed by the burial game of the moon’s metal core. But how are you through archives?

You melt yourself down with a nuclear-powered robot.

At least, the proposal was added to the American Geophysical Union meeting in Washington DC this week.

Nasa Glenn Research Center’s multidisciplinary COMPASS team was founded to develop technology to overcome space exploration exploration.

Europe is a big one.

The ice covering this degree of Jupiter can be somewhere between 2 and 30km thick.


Nuclear tunnelbot

Planetaric scientists aren


It is possible to open our understanding of how common life is in our universe, how resilient it is – and how it occurs. Not even some Europe has a sea. But all signs indicate that it has. The most enticing of these is the plumman of liquid water that periodically breaks out of its surface.

The COMPASS team has conducted a concept study on technology that can pierce the ice with a series of sensors and send data that it collects back to earth.

The best option, as they argue, is a nuclear-powered submarine.

Nuclear power packs most energy in a small space.

And it does not even need to be built into a nuclear reactor – but it was one of the concept designs. In its simplest form, radioactive “bricks” simply radiate a heat source in front of a tubular probe which then gradually decreases when the ice below turns.

The power of such nuclear fuel cells has been clearly demonstrated by Voyager 1 and 2, still sending back signals when they pass into interstellar space about 40 years after they were launched.

The nuclear submarine would distribute from a lander with a fiber optic string of data repeaters unfurling as it drops.

Such a tunnel of Europe would be relatively large. And risky to start.

“We did not worry how our submarine would make it Europe or be deployed in the ice,” said the University of Illinois at Chicago Professor Andrew Dombard. “We just assumed it could get there and we focused on how it would work during sea diving.”

A rendering of Europe, showing the underworld and geysers that regularly break out of its surface. Photo / Nasa

What is the purpose of their mission. Whether or not such a nuclear-powered submarine is being built and distributed is the next step. But the decision will be based on an informed study of what it would take to peek under Europe’s ice.

Sending a probe to Europe is one of Nasa’s great ambitions in the coming decades. But getting the mission past an increasingly skeptical US Congress may not be easy.


On thin ice

The project’s main advocate was Texas Republican John Culberson, who organized the subcommittee as Nasa funds. The Nasa study that produced the nuclear-powered tunnel was the result of his efforts.

But he lost his seat at the last half-time election.

And President Donald Trump’s latest fiscal statistics say he has no intention of financing a Europe landing.

Some experts express the fear of such an attempt would be a “bridge too far”: we simply do not know enough about the odd moon.

Nasa image depicting a close-up of Jupiter’s moon’s Europe-icy surface. Photo / Nasa

“It’s a mission that came out of Congress as opposed to an assignment that came out of science,” says planetary society’s Emily Lakdawalla.

Others argue the long lead times for such ambitious missions means it’s time to start working on the project.

And we are now ready to learn more about the mysterious moon.

The Europa Clipper Mission – a space probe designed to run the moon – has received initial funding. The goal is to circulate as little as 25 km for up to three years, chart Europe’s ice-cream surface and figure out what it’s like if chemicals are spread into their plumes.

It hopes that Clipper will be ready for launch in 2022. It will take six years for the probe to reach Jupiter and establish itself in orbit around Europe.


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