BRUIE – a wheeled robot designed to study the oceans of the icy planets of the solar system

Scientists’ interest in studying the oceans hiding beneath the thickness of ice on the surface of some of the satellites of the planets of the solar system is quite understandable, since primitive as well as more developed life forms may well exist in these oceans. The plans of the American space agency NASA already have missions to study Europe and Enceladus, and the key point of these missions will be robots that can independently operate under water, being lowered there through a multi-kilometer thick ice. We have already told our readers about the various projects of such robots, most of which are miniature submarines. But experts from NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) took a slightly different path, the BRUIE (Buoyant Rover for Under-Ice Exploration) they created had a wheeled structure and it would “roll” along the underside of the ice shell making observations and various scientific measurements.

The boundary region where the ice cover “meets” with the waters of the subglacial ocean is more interesting from a scientific point of view than other areas. Indeed, it is in this area that conditions may exist in which some of the species of living organisms very successfully exist, as is observed in the terrestrial polar oceans.


“Studies conducted on Earth have shown that some species of life literally thrive on the border of ice and water. Studying these areas with traditional submarine vehicles, automatic or remotely controlled, faces a number of problems associated with sea currents, for which a fairly significant amount of energy is spent on maintaining a fixed position of the apparatus, ”says Andy Klesh, project lead engineer,“ BRUIE uses positive buoyancy to reliably mounted on the bottom surface of the ice, and therefore, no flows and currents harm it, but it can change buoyancy from positive to negative and make a dive into the depths of the ocean to measure and take water samples from the depths. And in the most economical mode, the BRUIE robot can observe the environment for months”.

The BRUIE robot is similar in shape to a coil about a meter long. In the central axis of this “coil” is located electronics, battery, cameras and measuring instruments. At the ends of the axis there are two electric wheels with sharp spikes on the surface that provide good adhesion to the smooth surface of the ice.

The first tests of the BRUIE robot will begin in December at Casey’s Australian research station, where this robot will be launched into the water through a hole in the ice. After that, the robot will begin its ice journey, betraying live video shot with two high-quality cameras, and taking measurements of oxygen concentration dissolved in water, water salinity, pressure and temperature.

If the first underwater tests of the BRUIE robot are successful, then in a few months the robot will be spared the cable “leash” and it will be allowed to work completely independently at great depths.

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