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Center Innovation Fund: GRC CIF

Cryogenic Ice Penetration Mechanics for Investigating the Existence of Life on the Jupiter Moon Europa

Completed Technology Project

Project Introduction

The innovation described in this proposal is a concept for an instrumented penetrator that can be impacted deep into the surface of Europa and record and transmit data to an orbiter. The data would allow a much better understanding of the chemical composition of Europa, conditions in the ice and the water layer below, whether those conditions can support life, and possibly even confirm the existence of life. A penetrator would be a much less costly option than a lander.  

A key challenge is that ice properties at the temperatures that exist on Europa are not well characterized. Our previous studies have shown that hardness as well as dynamic strength of ice increases rapidly with decreasing temperature. Specifically, current models for dynamic mechanical behavior of ice including fracture and fragmentation have difficulty in handling the extreme low temperature regime, because of the coupling between massive failure processes, strength, energetics and dynamics. We propose to address this regime: understanding this regime will enable development of robust and predictive penetration models for deep ice, that will enable the design of a penetrator.

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