Moons of our Solar System
Moons of our Solar System

Start this free course now. Just create an account and sign in. Enrol and complete the course for a free statement of participation or digital badge if available.

Free course

Moons of our Solar System

1.8 Ice penetrators

It would be very difficult and expensive to land a spacecraft on one of the airless icy moons. The costs would escalate if the whole craft had to be sufficiently sterile to meet the most stringent planetary protection criteria. A neat solution would be to send down a ‘penetrator’, which would be a small projectile to hit the ice at a speed of about 1 km s−1. It would come to rest 1 metre or so below the surface and could be equipped with miniaturised instruments capable of surviving the extremely rapid deceleration upon impact. Because of its small size it could carry only a small battery and might operate for only a few days, but nevertheless it would offer major advances in knowledge. It would also be easier to sterilise than the whole spacecraft.

This short video (which has no audio commentary) is an animation of a ‘penetrator’ designed in the UK by the aerospace company Astrium. What measurements would you most like it to make when embedded in the ice of a moon such as Europa?

Download this video clip.Video player: moons_1_vid061.mp4
Interactive feature not available in single page view (see it in standard view).

Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to University-level study, we offer two introductory routes to our qualifications. You could either choose to start with an Access module, or a module which allows you to count your previous learning towards an Open University qualification. Read our guide on Where to take your learning next for more information.

Not ready for formal University study? Then browse over 1000 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus371