This tiny submarine might someday explore our solar system


Jupiter's moon Europa is thought to be an ice-encrusted water world. NASA would love to dive below Europa's crust — because, dangit we need to meet an alien. And as far as we know, life enjoys a good sip of H20.

The idea for a tiny interplanetary submarine was first dreamed up at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in tandem with Uppsala University in Sweden. When built, the sub will be about the size of two soda cans stuck end-to-end. Such a small submersible would not only cost relatively little to launch into space, but would make delivering it below the surface of Europa's ice sheet much simpler as well.

The idea is to send the sub, along with a top-side drilling unit, to Europa. The top-side unit would also record data retrieved by the sub. While under water, the sub would be connected to its base via a tether, which would send directional signals to eight tiny on-board thrusters.

Prototypes of the tiny submarine have already been created by Swedish team members using a 3D printer. While the prototypes are plastic, the team envisions a titanium structure for the final product; something that will likely aid in keeping the suite of sensors crammed inside safe.

No concrete plans have been made for launching the minisub to Europa, but both NASA and the European Space Agency have preliminary missions in the works; the better to understand how much ice they might eventually have to drill through. We'll have to wait a few years — at least until 2030 — to see a Europa-bound mission materialize. Once that day arrives, we'll be able to cross our fingers once again, hoping that — any minute now — we'll know we aren't alone in the cosmos.


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