Researchers at JPL have developed a snake-like robot named the Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor (EELS) for enabling access to the subsurface oceans of icy moons like Enceladus. A number of field tests, including one at Athabasca Glacier in Canada, showcased EELS’s adaptive horizontal and vertical mobility in analog environments. Notable results include fully autonomous ~1.5 m descents in vertical glacial shafts and ascent of ~35-degree snow-covered slope.


Two key implications arise from EELS’s capabilities for enabling future sub-ice missions on ocean worlds. First, its adaptivity across diverse terrains addresses the need for navigating icy surfaces and diving into conduits with uncertain environments, crucial for subsurface ocean access. Second, the adaptivity exhibited by EELS is an essential ingredient to enable a one-shot exploration of unvisited worlds, which can replace conventional multi-mission campaigns with incrementally sophisticated robotic capabilities (e.g., ongoing Mars exploration campaign) that would span over many decades. This is important because we won’t have the luxury of sending a fleet of spacecraft to each of the unexplored worlds due to tight budgetary constraints, a scarcity of flight opportunities, and the extensive cruise time to the Outer Solar System and beyond.


Speaker: Dr. Masahiro Ono (NASA JPL)


Host: Kosuke Fujishima, ELSI.


Date: Wed. 26 Jun. 16:00-17:00 JST


Venue: Mishima Hall, ELSI