NASA’s engineers developed a new autonomous robot named BRUIE that it plans to send into outer space to search for signs of extraterrestrial life in ocean worlds beyond Earth.
BRUIE, which stands for ‘Buoyant Rover for Under Ice Exploration,’ looks like a futuristic, remote-controlled hand weight. The robot is made up of two wheels and the axle that connects them. However, those wheels can cling to the bottom of the ice, which is a valuable skill that NASA hopes to utilize in searching for life beneath the surface of oceans on distant exoplanets and moons.
Dr. Dan Arthur, an engineer from the University of Western Australia (UWA), teamed up with researchers from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory to test out BRUIE in Antarctica’s extreme temperatures at Australia’s Casey research station.
Dr. Arthur explained:
BRUIE, a buoyant rover with two independent wheels, is designed to drive along the underside of ice crust and uses onboard instruments to detect compounds that are of interest to space scientists. This is the third iteration of the robotic technology, which was built at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), a division of Caltech in Pasadena, California.
The team has taken BRUIE to the Arctic and Alaska, to conduct trials to assess the robot’s suitability for an outer space mission.
Dr. Arthur foresees:In the future, we will be reliant on technologies like BRUIE to enable the exploration of these ocean worlds and beyond.
The team of researchers from NASA’s JPL very much enjoyed working with Western Australian robotics professionals. “WA is a uniquely well-resourced location for the development of autonomous robotics systems that interact with geology,” Dr. Arthur noted.
In The Future
NASA will launch a space mission called Europa Clipper in the mid-2020s. It will involve an orbiter that will orbit Jupiter and achieve multiple flybys of its ‘ocean moon,’ Europa, to capture scientific photos and other data.
Dr. Arthur said:
Europa Clipper could be followed by a subsequent mission, which will aim to land on the surface of Europa and deploy an evolution of BRUIE, beginning the search for life on the icy moon.
BRUIE’s capabilities aren’t only useful to find aliens in outer space. The researchers will also use BRUIE on Earth to perform and support oceanographic research and imagery.