Advanced Cooling Technologies, Inc. (ACT) proposes a thermal concept for the ice penetration probe for Europa subsurface exploration. A preliminary vehicle architecture based on several thermal features that are meant to mitigate/solve a series of challenges specific to the mission is considered. The concept consists of:
The proposed thermal concept applies to both nuclear and radioisotope powered systems. The convertors are thermoelectric modules.
The main objective of the proposed program is to develop a thermal probe architecture that is capable of penetrating the thick and cryogenic ice layer from Europa by melting in the most effective and reliable way and also overcome the related challenges. Phase I will focus on concept feasibility demonstration, which will be done by developing a sub-scale ice melting probe prototype with front vapor chamber, variable conductance wall and steam jet steering subsystems integrated. Ice penetration and navigation capability of the sub-scale ice melting prototype will be demonstrated through an experimental system. ACT will work on thermal management system design and optimization and USNC will undertake the nuclear-based power conversion system design and power/mass budget assessment. The deliverables in Phase I will be a comprehensive report summarizing all R&D efforts and a full-scale system design that integrates both power and thermal management systems.
The immediate application for the proposed concept is Europa subsurface exploration. The probe functionality is based on several passive thermal features that would allow both ice penetration and potentially subsurface liquid water navigation. Additional NASA applications could be represented by exploration of other icy planets.
The nature of the power source (radioisotope or fission based) that the proposed melting probe uses may drastically reduce its potential for use in non-NASA applications. However, the probe’s architecture and its thermal features may be useful in an electrically powered configuration for subsurface exploration in Antarctic and/or Arctic regions.