To support NASA’s future Europa Subsurface Exploration missions, Advanced Cooling Technologies, Inc. (ACT) proposes a thermal probe that can penetrate the thick and cryogenic ice layer on Europa in an efficient and reliable manner. This nuclear-powered thermal probe consists of multiple novel thermal features that are meant to minimize time of penetration and mitigate a series of challenges specific to the mission considered, including:
In Phase I, a preliminary full-scale ice melting probe with multiple thermal features was designed and analyzed. A proof-of-concept prototype was developed and tested in an ice environment. The functionality of key features was successfully demonstrated. In Phase II, ACT will further mature the proposed thermal technology and develop a full-scale thermal probe for an envisioned Europa mission. ACT will perform detailed trade studies and optimize thermal components, including P2P, vapor chamber, variable conductance wall etc. ACT will also work closely with JPL to integrate their liquid jet ice cutting concept into ACT’s current design. An initial prototype will be developed by integration of all thermal features. An ice environment system that can replicate Europa ice conditions will be developed for prototype testing. A full-scale ice melting probe that considers both thermal and non-thermal subsystems will be designed and its performance under Europa environmental conditions will be analyzed. A reduced scale prototype will be developed and delivered to NASA JPL for further performance validation.
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 or moons.
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.