Arctic / Antarctic

Away Team Update: DLR TRIPLE-IceCraft Expedition To Antarctica Part 1

By Keith Cowing
Status Report
March 3, 2023
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Away Team Update: DLR TRIPLE-IceCraft Expedition To Antarctica Part 1
Well-equipped for icy temperatures – us in polar clothing Credit: DLR/RWTH Aachen/Dirk Heinen

Some regions on Earth are as mysterious as distant celestial bodies – but equally explored. These include subglacial lakes in Antarctica. These lakes lie under a permanent layer of ice, often several kilometres thick, and sometimes form an ecosystem that has been closed off for about a million years.

It is safe to assume that they contain microbial life that has adapted to these extreme environmental conditions. But to study microbial life, samples must be taken without contamination, so that no microorganisms are introduced from the surface. This is a particularly technical and methodological challenge.

In 2018, the German Space Agency at DLR launched the Technologies for Rapid Ice Penetration and subglacial Lake Exploration (TRIPLE) project to develop an autonomous, robotic system for contamination-free exploration of these lakes and, prospectively, for exploration of the oceans beneath the ice crust of the icy moons Europa and Enceladus. Twenty-eight development teams from Germany are currently involved in the project.

The TRIPLE system consists of an ice-melting probe, an autonomous underwater vehicle and an astrobiological laboratory where samples can be examined in situ. The TRIPLE-IceCraft meltdown probe is now being tested in Antarctica by a team from RWTH Aachen University and GSI GmbH from Aachen, who were responsible for designing it.

At the Neumayer Station III operated by the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), TRIPLE-IceCraft is to penetrate the Ekström Ice Shelf and plunge into the ocean below. TRIPLE-IceCraft was developed as a fully traceable melting probe for drilling down to several hundred metres.

Technical drawing of TRIPLE-IceCraft

Full blog entry at DLR


SpaceRef co-founder, Explorers Club Fellow, ex-NASA, Away Teams, Journalist, Space & Astrobiology, Lapsed climber.