NASA is funding research to develop tiny, swimming robots that could search these darkened depths for marine extra-terrestrials.
Plumes of liquid water erupt into space through fissures in Enceladus’s frozen surface and when NASA’s Cassini spacecraft flew through that cosmic mist, it detected interesting molecules that are often associated with the presence of life, like methane.
NASA engineer Ethan Schaler has developed a concept involving an ice-melting probe and a school of cell phone-size aquatic drones to explore such eerie environments. It’s called Sensing With Independent Micro-Swimmers (SWIM), and it has recently received funding to create and test 3D-printed prototypes.
“With a swarm of small swimming robots, we are able to explore a much larger volume of ocean water and improve our measurements by having multiple robots collecting data in the same area,” Schaler said in a statement.
The project has recently received $600,000 in a second round of funding from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program. Known as SWIM, the project was also previously awarded $125,000 in phase one NIAC funds to conduct a feasibility study and come up with a design.
The triangular swimming robots could be loaded into a larger “cryobot” design that tunnels its way through the ice by melting it, perhaps using radiation. Cryobot concepts are currently in development through other NASA programs.