Swarm of Tiny Swimming Robots Could Look for Life on Distant Worlds

In the Sensing With Independent Micro-Swimmers (SWIM) concept, illustrated here, dozens of small robots would descend through the icy shell of a distant moon via a cryobot – depicted at left – to the ocean below. The project has received funding from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program. (Credits: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

A concept in development at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory would allow potential planetary missions to chase interesting clues in subsurface oceans.

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Someday, a swarm of cellphone-size robots could whisk through the water beneath the miles-thick icy shell of Jupiter’s moon Europa or Saturn’s moon Enceladus, looking for signs of alien life. Packed inside a narrow ice-melting probe that would tunnel through the frozen crust, the tiny robots would be released underwater, swimming far from their mothercraft to take the measure of a new world.

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NASA Selects Futuristic Space Technology Concepts for Early Study

Credit: NASA

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — An astronaut steps into a body scanner and, hours later, walks on Mars in a custom-made spacesuit, breathing oxygen that was extracted from Mars’ carbon dioxide-rich atmosphere. On Venus, an inflatable bird-like drone swoops through the sky, studying the planet’s atmosphere and weather patterns. Ideas like these are currently science fiction, but they could one day become reality, thanks to a new round of grants awarded by NASA.

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Visionary Tech Concepts Could Pioneer the Future in Space

WASHINGTON (NASA PR) — NASA missions make it seem like the future is now – rovers exploring Mars with cutting-edge gadgets, a spacecraft venturing home with an asteroid sample, and a complex space telescope peering at the early universe. So, what’s the next big thing? What might space missions in 2050 and beyond set out to discover? 

One small NASA program aims to see what could be possible. The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program, part of the agency’s Space Technology Mission Directorate, funds early-stage research into sci-fi sounding, futuristic technology concepts. The goal is to find what might work,  what might not, and what exciting new ideas researchers may come up with along the way

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Using Micro-robots to Search for Alien Life on Ocean Moons

SWIM concept of operations, including lander / ocean-access cryobot (Left) and deployed micro-swimmers (Right) with independent propulsion, sensing and two-way ultrasound communication to the cryobot mothercraft. (Credits: Ethan Schaler)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Funding: up to $125,000
Study Period: 9 months

SWIM — Sensing with Independent Micro-swimmers
Ethan Schaler
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

The next decades of space exploration will focus on Ocean Worlds – especially Enceladus, Europa, and Titan – whose liquid oceans beneath kilometers of icy crust are some of the most likely locations beyond Earth to harbor life. To access these aquatic environments, NASA is developing and maturing numerous ocean-access mission concepts, including the Scientific Exploration Subsurface Access Mechanism for Europa (SESAME) class of thermo-mechanical drilling robots.

We propose developing SWIM – Sensing with Independent Micro-swimmers – dramatically expand the capabilities of SESAME-class ocean-access robotic missions and significantly increase their likelihood of detecting evidence of habitability / biomarkers / life.

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NIAC Award: Building a Levitating Railroad on the Moon

Artist’s depiction of the FLOAT lunar railway system to provide reliable, autonomous, and efficient payload transport on the Moon. (Credits: Ethan Schaler)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Phase I Award
Funding: up to $125,000
Study Period: 9 months

FLOAT: Flexible Levitation on a Track
Ethan Schaler
NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Pasadena, Calif.

We want to build the first lunar railway system, which will provide reliable, autonomous, and efficient payload transport on the Moon. A durable, long-life robotic transport system will be critical to the daily operations of a sustainable lunar base in the 2030’s, as envisioned in NASA’s Moon to Mars plan and mission concepts like the Robotic Lunar Surface Operations 2 (RLSO2), to:

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Futuristic Space Technology Concepts Selected by NASA for Initial Study

This illustration shows a conceptual lunar railway system called FLOAT (Flexible Levitation on a Track) that has been selected for an early-stage feasibility study within the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program. (Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech)

PASADENA, Calif. (NASA PR) — Four advanced space concepts from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory have been selected to receive grants for further research and development.

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