NASA is actively considering surface missions to explore planetary bodies that may harbor liquid oceans, such as Europa and Enceladus. While these moons outwardly present an icy surface, scientists believe tidal activity driven by their respective host planets may drive thermal activity beneath, sustaining warm bodies of water that could potentially provide conditions favorable for life. Robotic penetration technologies are needed to drive through the ice layer, enabling access to subsurface oceans for exploration. A leading approach to drilling surface ice for remote space missions involves use of a robotic melt‑probe, which would use residual heat from its radioisotope source to supply a warm water jet to accelerate the descent. The critical need for this type of system is a water jet pump that can operate in the extreme inhospitable environment of a deep subsurface ice, while reliably delivering melted ice to the jet nozzle for a long endurance, persistent drilling activity. To meet this need, Creare has developed a robust, miniature, high-speed water jet pump, designed for very long service life with limited sensitivity to inlet debris present in the ice melt. This pump directly enables needs requested by NASA 2020 Topic S4.02: Ice penetration technologies reaching more than 1 km in depth and enabling access to subsurface oceans. During Phase I, we proved feasibility of the water jet pump by carrying out initial design trades, developing a preliminary pump and motor design, and then demonstrating stable operation of a representative high-speed permanent magnet bearing system through laboratory testing. Specifically, we operated our bearings system well above the 10,000 rpm design speed with low runout in a highly successful first‑of‑a‑kind test assembly. In Phase II, we will finalize the pump design, fabricate a prototype pump with integral motor, demonstrate its performance in a representative environment, and deliver it to NASA JPL for further evaluation.
Creare’s water jet pump is designed to enable deep ice drilling that will facilitate exploration of subsurface oceans thought to be present on Europa and Enceladus. Other NASA uses for such a pump include melt‑probes to explore ice caps on the moon or on Mars, or drilling within ice on a comet, pumping of planetary liquids for ISRU propellant production, and open loop cooling systems for thermal control.
Downhole oil and gas and water production similarly require a pump tolerant to abrasive particles and rated for elevated ambient pressures and high ambient temperatures. Markets are remote areas where high reliability and robustness are paramount. The pump could also be paired with Earth‑based melt‑probe to enable drilling for oil and gas exploration regions of the Arctic