NASA To Explore Space Volcanoes With Robots

Scientists are inching closer and closer to taking a peek inside some of space’s hottest commodities: volcanoes. And space giant NASA is behind the modern-day move.

For years now, astronauts and space enthusiasts have seen volcanoes and geysers erupt on a variety of moons, including those of Io and Enceladus. There are also volcanic remains on the surface of both Mars and the Moon. Yet, it has been tough for Earth’s rovers to explore the inside of these areas effectively – NASA intends to change that, however, with its Jet Propulsion Laboratory.

The Jet Propulsion Laboratory is working on a new robot to send to these locations one day in the hopes of controlling them into the interior of a volcano within our Solar System. The project is currently called VolcanoBot, and the first prototype for the mechanical engineering feat was tested last year inside the active Kilauea volcano in Hawaii. A second test is set for later this year, though no volcano has been chosen thus far.

The prototype for VolcanoBot, as illustrated by Universe Today, reveals a very small robotic contraption with two wheels attached to both sides of its body. The electronics used to maneuver and control the machine are located within the central system, which is long and cylindrical in nature.

The goal of the prototype is to create 3D maps of the interior of any environment it roams – volcanoes included. Early results from the tests conducted by NASA have proven to be quite effective, and a press release from the organization revealed the robot had discovered a fissure it was exploring did not completely close up – something NASA did not quite expect.

“We don’t know exactly how volcanoes erupt. We have models but they are all very, very simplified. This project aims to help make those models more realistic,” said Carolyn Parcheta, a NASA postdoctoral fellow at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California who is currently leading the research for the robotic explorers.

She continued, “In order to eventually understand how to predict eruptions and conduct hazard assessments, we need to understand how the magma is coming out of the ground. This is the first time we have been able to measure it directly, from the inside, to centimeter-scale accuracy.”

Research for VolcanoBot 2, which offers less mass, less size, and an advanced “vision center” that can rotate, will begin this year. This project is still in its early stages, but as of now, results are favorable.