This recently released video shows the European Space Agency (ESA) testing ice-penetrating delivery systems. These systems, it is hoped, will allow us to one day deliver probes and aquatic rovers below the surface of alien worlds. To develop these systems, the ESA is taking a page out of our shared, violent past.
Developed by the British as dam-busters during World War II, and then reinvented by the U.S. as bunker-busters during the first Gulf War, burrowing weapons have been in use for quite a while. But traveling across the solar system and delivering sensitive equipment is a lot different than simply destroying a concrete structure.
The current design prototype looks a lot like an artillery round, a shape that belies its inner complexities. The 44 pound shell houses a spring-mounted, aluminum instrument bay, a heat-absorbing compartment, and a steel nose cone. Currently, the prototypes are only carrying dummy instruments and accelerometers — the better to test the stresses within the device.
Those stresses could be somewhat substantial, being that in the test run the probe hit a sheet of ice at 762 mph, resulting in over 24,000 g's of force. Though the test has yet to be fully analyzed, it is unlikely to be the last of its kind. The probe's nose lifted substantially upon release from its rocket sled, striking the ice sheet at a less than ideal angle. Dropping a projectile from space would very likely not result in the same angle of impact.
Nonetheless, the video below shows a very cool probe-to-ice impact — one which actually dented the prototype and sent icy shrapnel careening in every direction. Check it out.