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Robotic Search for Life Beneath Antarctica

Rendering of SPINDLE cryobotFounder of Stone Aerospace Dr. Bill Stone and Louisiana State University geologist Dr. Peter Doran have assembled a diverse team of polar and planetary scientists to develop a state-of-the-art cryobot (an ice-penetrating robotic vehicle) to search for life in lakes and oceans under miles-thick ice in Antarctica. With nearly $3 million from NASA, the team will develop, integrate and field test SPINDLE (Sub-glacial Polar ice Navigation, Descent, and Lake Exploration), an autonomous cryobot that will melt through some of the thickest ice on Earth to access the pristine water beneath. SPINDLE will be the first cryobot system to carry a second stage hovering autonomous underwater vehicle (HAUV). The HAUV will conduct reconnaissance, life search and sample collection then return to the cryobot for subsequent data uplink and possible sample return to the surface.

The SPINDLE team has developed a three-phase plan that will deliver an integrated and field-tested system that will enable a possible future robotic life-detection mission to one of the ice-covered ocean worlds of the outer solar system. The current funding is for the first phase, which consists of defining the science questions and goals, performing lab tests and developing the basic design of the vehicle. One of the biggest design challenges is providing the energy to melt the ice.

Stone Aerospace is a Texas-based company dedicated to the exploration and commercialization of the frontiers we know of and the discovery of the ones yet to come. We develop the tools needed to explore the frontier, to survive and work in it, to characterize it, and to exploit it. Our people are both seasoned expeditionary scientists and explorers—who personally use the equipment we design in demanding environments—and best-of-class engineers and coders. We are novel, lean, fast moving, and cutting-edge. We strive to change the way things are done, to cut red tape, and get reliable hardware into the field rapidly. Our business structure and extensive partnerships allow us to swiftly assemble extraordinary multi-disciplinary teams to tackle complex high-tech projects. We specialize in autonomous systems, mobile robotics, fiber-tethered and Wi-Fi controlled vehicles, re-entry vehicles, novel spacecraft architectures, propulsion, structures and dynamics, manned systems, closed-cycle life support, spacesuit PLSS and spacecraft ECLSS systems, 3D mapping (both laser radar and high resolution sonar), guidance and navigation systems, auto-docking systems (ladar, optical, gps-aided, imu-aided, dvl-aided, sonar, usbl), embedded devices, high density power systems, head-up displays, and smart devices.