Lasers Could Help Cryobots Melt Through Ice on Europa

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Time Life Pictures / Getty Images

One of Jupiter's four major moons, Europa, 1,950 mile-wide globe of ice, taken from Voyager Spacecraft.

Jupiter’s moon Europa is a prime candidate in the search for life. The problem? All of its liquid water is hidden under a huge icy crust.

Inventor Bill Stone says he has a potential solution. According to Wired, his company Stone Aerospace is building a six-foot robotic cylinder called VALKYRIE which could potentially explore icy moons by burrowing through miles of ice.

(MORE: What Will NASA’s Rover of the Future Look Like?)

The idea is that VALKYRIE’s power source would sit on the planet’s surface, sending a powerful laser through miles of fiber-optic cables to the machine as it traveled down through melted ice. Stone’s more modest immediate goal is to use a 5,000-watt laser to power a cryobot through 250 meters of ice within the next three years.

Ultimately, it’s our love of consumer technology that might make Stone’s dream a reality.

According to Wired:

And while there had been major advances in both industrial lasers and fiber optic cables as recently as the past five years, no one had ever tried to shoot the former down the latter. “The thing driving fiber optic development is telecommunications,” Stone said, “which uses very low power.”

A big industrial laser, on the other hand, can cut a car in half. These tend to be used in sealed work cells, with the beam only a couple of meters away from objects being etched for manufacturing purposes.

While shooting a laser that can cut a car in half down a fiber-optic cable might seem dangerous, it’s actually safer than giving the robot an on-board power source like a small nuclear reactor — not to mention that testing a nuclear robot in Antarctica is forbidden by international treaty.

We can’t even consider sending a rover to Europa before we get high-resolution photos of its surface to scout for potential landing spots. Still, we’re going to have to get through that ice one way or another, and right now Stone’s laser-powered cryobot looks like a pretty good bet.

MORE: Oceans, a Lake — and Life? — on One of Jupiter’s Moons