C13E-0655: Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration

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Authors: Daniel F Berisford, John M Leichty, Andrew T Klesh, Jaret B Matthews, Kevin P Hand

Author Institutions: Jet Propulsion Laboratory, California Institute of Technology, Pasadena, CA, USA

We have designed, constructed and tested a prototype robotic mobility platform for exploring the underside of ice sheets in frozen lake or ocean environments. The ice-water interface often provides some of the most interesting and dynamic chemistry in partially frozen systems, as dissolved impurities are rejected from the advancing freezing front. Higher concentrations of microorganisms can be found in this region, and the topography of the ice underside can help reveal the history of its formation. Furthermore, in lake environments ice cover can serve to trap gases released from biological and geological processes in the subsurface. The rover uses a two-wheeled design with a flexible dragging tail, enabling it to fit into a 10-inch diameter ice borehole. The sealed air-filled cylindrical body, along with closed-cell foam inside of cone-shaped wheels, provides buoyancy force to enable roving along the underside of the ice. The prototype contains two cameras that stream live video via a tethered connection to a ground station and uses semi-autonomous control via a PC. Preliminary testing of the prototype in a cold lab and in northern Alaskan thermokarst lakes demonstrates the utility and simplicity of this type of robotic platform for exploring the ice-water interface. This technology has potential future use in landed missions to icy ocean worlds in the solar system.

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