NASA's team tests the robot under the Antarctic sea-ice

A robot designed to search for signs of alien life in our solar system has excelled in its first road-test in Antarctica.

A team from NASA spent three weeks at Australia’s Casey research station, testing the robot under the Antarctic sea-ice.

The buoyant robot ‘floats’ against the underside of the sea-ice to move around on two wheels.

NASA scientist from the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Dr Kevin Hand, said the Antarctic mission was a huge success:

“We put the robot under the sea-ice on 4 occasions and were able to test its full mechanical capabilities. We even left it hanging out under the ice for a 48-hour sleep-over. What we saw was just stunning, the sea-ice algae dangling down like little chandeliers, carpets of thick algae communities and gas bubbles under the ice.”

The robot has two independent wheels to manoeuvre along the under-side of the ice and suite of science instruments to take samples of the ice-water interface.

NASA Lead Engineer, Dr Andy Klesh, said the robot was able to collect a range of valuable data. He said:

“The under-side of the ice was quite flat, so the robot could roam about amassing information on dissolved oxygen, conductivity, temperature and depth.”

The Antarctic road-tests will now inform changes to the design of the robot.

Dr Hand said:

“We learned from navigating some of the cracks that an additional wheel, like a tricycle, might be useful as well as adding thrusters to it, so we could vary our buoyancy when needed.”

It’s hoped a future version of this robot will be on the mission to explore the salty oceans of Europa and potentially find life beneath its 10 kilometre-thick icy crust.