Robotic Solutions to Sampling and Sample Handling Challenges on Ocean Worlds

Ocean worlds are widely regarded as promising locations in the solar system in the search for life. However, the liquid water oceans that are the most promising locations for potential life lie isolated beneath kilometers of ice, which makes robotics and autonomy required for missions, and introduces new challenges for robotics, especially in sample handling systems. This thesis will address the needs for sampling on ocean worlds by using analog Earth environments and underwater technology development platforms to explore underwater solid sampling (e.g., sediment or ice), and by developing a liquid sampling system with ocean profiling capabilities suitable for a mission concept for a Europa melt probe. These studies will serve to investigate the challenges in sampling and the current state of the technology, concluding with the development of robotic solutions to these challenges. The objectives of this work are to: explore the needs of sampling systems for searching for life on ocean worlds, design robotic solutions to solve the identified challenges in sampling, and to develop benchtop systems to increase the technology readiness levels of these sampling systems for an ocean worlds mission context. To achieve these objectives, three systems were developed and tested in the lab, and, where possible, in a relevant environment: a solid sampling system for use on lightweight under-ice AUVs; a small tether management system for use on board an under-ice ocean profiler; and a milliliter-scale electrodialysis instrument for desalting samples of water in situ. The determination of these systems, the motivation behind each one and how they enable ocean world sampling or sample handling, the design, and results from testing are presented in this thesis.
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