NASA Updates Robotic Snake for Off-Planet Exploration

In a new paper, the robotics team provided updates on the robot’s mobility to make it better adapted to the icy environments of Saturn’s moons

Scarlett Evans, Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

March 25, 2024

2 Min Read
Tests of EELs in Southern California mountains
Tests of EELs in Southern California mountainsNASA JPL

NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) has released an update to its robotic snake, designed to explore the icy terrain on Enceladus, Saturn's sixth-largest moon.

The team, working alongside roboticists at Carnegie Mellon University's Robotic Institute, published a paper on updates to the design as it works to create a “risk-aware autonomous robot” to navigate extreme icy environments.

Due to the harsh conditions of other planets, the team said an exploration robot has to be highly autonomous, adaptive and resilient to execute the mission with limited to zero human supervision.

The robot, dubbed Exobiology Extant Life Surveyor (EELS), is fitted with a series of sensors and cameras in its head to monitor and take in its environment. Its body is made up of various segments that can turn like a corkscrew over the icy ground, gathering material as it travels and testing it for signs of life. 

The updates focussed on capabilities “essential for enabling an Enceladus vent exploration mission”, including motion planning for autonomous navigation, situational awareness and risk management.  

The team also released a video showcasing progressive tests of the robot’s efficacy in the lab, at an ice rink and at Athabasca Glacier in Alberta, Canada.

Related:NASA’s Robotic Snake to Search for Life on Saturn’s Moon

The project was first announced last May, with JPL saying it was developing the robot to map and explore previously inaccessible areas on other planets.

Ultimately, the team hopes to send the robot to Enceladus to search for signs of life. 

JPL established the project after plumes of water vapor were seen rising from the moon during NASA’s Cassini mission. This has led researchers to hypothesize there may be a large body of water beneath the moon’s icy crust that may house living organisms. 

About the Author(s)

Scarlett Evans

Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

Scarlett Evans is the assistant editor for IoT World Today, with a particular focus on robotics and smart city technologies. Scarlett has previous experience in minerals and resources with Mine Australia, Mine Technology and Power Technology. She joined Informa in April 2022.

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