As we near the final stages of the construction of the Mars 2020 rover, elsewhere, on surfaces quite unlike Mars', an aquatic rover is preparing to go under ice. Next month, the Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration (BRUIE) will venture to Australia's Casey research station in Antarctica. Once there, it will run a series of tests and drills, which are meant to gauge the durability and versatility of such rovers, under the Antarctic ice sheets.
One of the drills will be driving BRUIE upside down under sea ice. Throughout the tests, the rover will remain tied to the surface, allowing the engineers on-site to trial the aquatic rover's instruments, including two high-definition cameras.
The dynamics of Antarctic waters closely mimic those of icy moons so the chosen location will prove to be a good fit for running the intended tests. Moreover, BRUIE will also be probing into the ice-water interface since, according to the lead scientist Andy Klesh, "...life often lives at interfaces, both the sea bottom and the ice-water interface at the top."
The data gathered from these tests will be essential for the development of such rovers, which are intended to explore underwater life in other celestial bodies in our solar system in the future. And one of the prerequisites of such rovers is that they should be "capable of navigating solo through an alien ocean locked under ice sheets that could be 6 to 12 miles (10 to 19 kilometers) thick."
Klesh remarked that currently, most submersible robots waste crucial power when they maintain position underwater. To remedy the submersibility issue, BRUIE "uses buoyancy to remain anchored against the ice and is impervious to most currents." On top of this, the aquatic rover "can safely power down, turning on only when it needs to take a measurement, so that it can spend months observing the under-ice environment."
Although the same rover has been tested underwater in Alaska and the Arctic in 2015, this will be the first time that BRUIE will be venturing beneath the Antarctic. The team working on BRUIE claims that it will continue working on the aquatic rover until it is robust enough to explore life beneath the oceans untethered.
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