May 12, 2023: Due to the communications delay between Earth and deep space, EELS is built to independently sense its surroundings, establish its risk level, navigate, and collect data using yet-to-be-determined research instruments. Continue reading to know more about EELS and watch the video!
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) is, quite literally, on to something extraordinary again! A versatile robot that would autonomously map, traverse, and explore previously inaccessible destinations is being put to the test at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory.
Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor (EELS), a transportable instrument platform, is being developed with the ability to adapt to various terrains. Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, is highlighted particularly by the system. Enceladus was found in 1789.
The Cassini spacecraft has classified this tiny icy body as one of the solar system's "most scientifically interesting destinations." Enceladus contains a liquid ocean behind its icy crust, according to Cassini findings. It has a surface temperature of roughly -201 degrees Celsius and is also quite reflective. Scientists believe that it is not as chilly and inactive as previously believed.
NASA will make significant progress in its quest for life owing to Enceladus' global ocean and internal heat. The spacecraft has discovered that a subterranean ocean beneath its icy crust is where geyser-like jets discharge water vapour and ice particles.
It has been discovered that the EELS system is also capable of exploring the polar ice sheets beneath the Earth's surface and its descending crevasses (a deep crack that forms in a glacier or ice sheet), in addition to Enceladus.
The EELS, which is propelled by power and communication electronics, has a snake-like appearance and is made up of several, identical segments. The system uses rotating propulsion units that function as rails, grasping mechanisms, and propeller units underwater. This makes it useful for exploring previously undiscovered places.
Therefore, we can safely say that EELS can navigate a wide range of terrain, including undulating sand and ice, rock walls, craters too steep for rovers, underground lava tubes, and labyrinthine areas within glaciers, on Earth, the Moon, and far beyond.
“It has the capability to go to locations where other robots can’t go. Though some robots are better at one particular type of terrain or other, the idea for EELS is the ability to do it all. When you’re going places where you don’t know what you’ll find, you want to send a versatile, risk-aware robot that’s prepared for uncertainty – and can make decisions on its own,” said JPL’s Matthew Robinson, EELS project manager.
The EELS system also appears in a NASA release.
The project team started constructing the initial prototype in 2019 and has since made numerous improvements. They have been testing the gear and software that enables EELS to function autonomously on the pitch every month since last year. The robot, known as EELS 1.0, is 13 feet (4 metres) long and weighs roughly 220 pounds (100 kilogrammes).
It is made up of ten rotating segments that are identical to one another and use screw threads for propulsion, traction, and grip. The team has been experimenting with a variety of screws, including narrower, sharper black metal screws for ice and white, 8-inch (20-centimetre) diameter, 3D-printed plastic screws for testing on looser ground.
The robot has been tested in sand, snow and icy conditions, including a local indoor ice rink, the Mars Yard at JPL, and a 'robot playground' built at a ski resort in Southern California's snowy mountains.