Melt probes for a Future Europa Lander

June 8, 2021 @ 6:00 pm – 7:00 pm America/New York Timezone

Geoscience & Remote Sensing Society

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Speaker: Paula do Vale Pereira

Abstract:  Water is essential to the formation and evolution of life as we know it. The Earth is an

example of a planet full of liquid water where life has successfully formed. Fortunately,

water is fairly common in our solar system—many other celestial bodies present oceans

of liquid water. In the search for finding extraterrestrial life, our best bet may be traveling

to such nearby Ocean Worlds. Jupiter’s moon Europa, for example, is believed to

harbor not only liquid water but also easily available energy and biologically essential

elements. However, these are not readily available at the surface—an ice crust up to 30

km thick covers the liquid water. Therefore, a key remaining challenge is reaching the

oceans of Europa. This requires developing ice penetrators that can carry payloads

from the cryogenic vacuum at the surface to the liquid water ocean below the ice. Initial

steps have been taken to develop analytical and numerical models of the thermal and

physical dynamics of ice penetrators in Europa-relevant environments, but experimental

validation of these models has been limited. We have built and experimentally tested

the performance of a set of melt probes under thermodynamic conditions similar to

those of Europa. Our probes are designed to test the fundamental thermal properties of

melt probes in cryogenic ice. They include monitoring of power, temperature, and

penetration depth. The validated thermal model resulting from this work will help

optimize the probe design for a future Europa lander, minimizing the time it takes for the

probe to reach the ocean and maximizing the science return of a mission to Europa.


Bio:  Paula do Vale Pereira is a PhD Candidate in Aerospace Engineering at MIT. Paula has

master’s degrees in Aerospace Engineering (MIT, 2019) and Thermal Engineering

(UFSC, 2017), and a bachelor’s degree in Mechanical Engineering (UFSC, 2014).

Paula specializes in the thermo-mechanical features of space exploration systems. She

has experience designing, manufacturing, integrating, testing, and operating satellites,

besides a strong knowledge of design and experimental analysis of probes for

extraterrestrial oceans. Paula’s main goal is to use science and engineering to help

further humanity’s knowledge about both our own planet and other worlds in the solar

system. Paula has been recognized as a “20 Twenty” by the Aviation Week/AIAA, a

“Rising Star in Mechanical Engineering” by UC Berkeley, an “Amelia Earhart Fellow” by

the Zonta Foundation, and a “Graduate Woman of Excellence” by MIT.