Here's the laser-powered robo drill NASA is developing to explore Europa

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Jul 25, 2014, 11:05 AM EDT (Updated)

The federal government has freed up $15 million to fund a NASA mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa, and this is the high-tech laser drill they want to use when they get there.

Scientists believe there could be a massive ocean hidden under the planet’s icy surface, but what we have to do is figure out a way to actually get there and drill deep enough through that hard-frozen exterior to see if we can find any water down there.

The project is dubbed VALKYRIE, and they’re basically developing a high-tech drill powered by a 5000-watt laser carried through fiber optic wire. By using fiber optics, the system can carry more power than typical electric cables, which has allowed the robot drill to dig deeper in initial field tests. They'll need that range, since there's no telling how deep the ice might be on Europa.

As an on-site report from New Scientist notes, the drill, 1.6 meters tall and 45 centimetres in diameter, resembles a “big black cigar with a tapered tip.” The device is designed to deliver even smaller robots into the water (assuming it finds any), and those ‘bots will then check for signs of life and map the sea floor. The team hopes to test one of those robots, Sunfish, in Antarctica next year.

Though they’re still in the early phases of testing in Alaska, they’re already working on some radar tech that’ll allow the drill to sense when it's approaching an obstacle, then go around it. Researchers believe the tech has a lot of promise, and this drill could be the key to finding alien life in the depths of Europa.

Check out a video of the field test below and let us know what you think:

(Via New Scientist)