NIAC Award: Magneto-Inductive Communications for Ocean Worlds

Artist’s depiction of Magneto-Inductive Communications for Ocean Worlds on a “tunnelbot” melting through ocean ice. (Credits: Robert Romanofsky)

NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC)
Phase I Award
Amount: $125,000

Magneto-Inductive Communications for Ocean Worlds

Robert Romanofsky
NASA Glenn Research Center

A mission to the under-ice ocean of Europa is one of the highest priority missions for NASA. Galileo magnetometer measurements and other observations suggest a deep layer of electrically conductive fluid beneath the surface. Concepts for a probe to melt through the 5 to 10 km thickness of briny ice to reach the buried ocean have been proposed.

Model predictions for magnesium sulfide concentrations vary but a conductivity range between 0.1 and 3 S/m seems reasonable. Conventional communications links that rely on propagation of an electromagnetic field cannot penetrate – even if the sea ice conductivity is only 0.1 S/m. The electric field attenuation would exceed 100 dB/km even at very low frequencies.

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