If it can work the kinks out of some new drilling technology, Germany hopes to take the search for extraterrestrial life to one of Saturn's icy moons.
Scientists on the Enceladus Explorer (EnEx) project are testing a probe they hope to send to Enceladus, Saturn's sixth largest moon, to sample water spewing from a cryovolcano on the surface of the satellite.
Scientists are so interested in the water there because when NASA's Cassini spacecraft flew through the spray, it detected organic compounds that could mean the moon is teeming with life. Cassini couldn't investigate further because the conditions were too treacherous for closer inspection.
Enter the EnEx project. The plan is to send a little probe called IceMole to drill and melt its way more than 600 feet below the surface of Enceladus. Once it eventually finds water, the device will pull out a sample and test it for microbes and other living organisms.
"EnEx deals with one of the most exciting tasks of space exploration—the search for extraterrestrial life," project manager Oliver Funke told Space.com.
The team will spend the next three years testing out the cutting-edge drilling tech in Antarctica, and if the work proves successful, Funke hopes it can inspire NASA and the European Space Agency to launch the probe.
"Further engineering steps to achieve this goal are necessary, which can be performed within a further three to five years," he told Space.com. "We hope that the demonstration of the required technology will make a mission to Enceladus more interesting for ESA and NASA."