Exploring space information, concentrating on the Moon.
Saturday, May 21, 2011
Do you remember Deep Phreatic Thermal Explorer (DEPTHX) and ENDURANCE (Environmentally Non - Disturbing Under - ice Robotic ANtarctic Explorer)?
NASA missions get planned and often aborted because of lack of money or a preparatory mission to test ideas for missions in the future gets completed but the big mission is aborted. I was watching a PBS show that was showing us how deep we have gone into the Earth and one of the clips was about investigating deep sinkholes that are filled with water like Sistema Zacaton (in northeastern Mexico).
The Deep Phreatic Thermal Explorer (DEPTHX) is an autonomous underwater vehicle, designed to explore deep underwater caves. It is purported to be the most advanced robotic vehicle of its kind on Earth. Its primary function is observation, with an array of sonar sensors (for 3D mapping) all around its flattened spheroid hull. It is about seven feet in diameter, and designed to make its own decisions, rather than solely following instructions directly given from human observers.
DEPTHX was built in 2006 and used to conduct field experiments in Mexico from January to May 2007. It demonstrated several technologies for navigation, decision making and biological detection that might be used someday to explore Jupiter's moon Europa.
DEPTHX was the first robot to demonstrate three-dimensional SLAMtechnology, enabling it to map unexplored spaces by creating a 3D map on the fly as it travels and to know where it is within that map at all times. It successfully collected microbiological samples, which led to the discovery by scientists at the Colorado School of Mines of several new classes of microbes. Finally, DEPTHX successfully mapped the lower portion and bottom of the world's deepest water-filled sinkhole, Cenote Zacatón. Because of its great depth (over 1,000 feet), human divers had failed to reach (or even detect with sonar instruments) the bottom.
During the past six years Stone Aerospace has developed two generations of autonomous underwater vehicles and used them in a wide variety of hazardous environments from the original exploration and mapping of deep hydrothermal springs to sub-glacial lake exploration and science missions in Antarctica. The first of these vehicles - DEPTHX (DEep Phreatic THermal eXplorer) - was designed to test the ability of a mobile robotic platform to autonomously explore and map in 3D where no external navigation aiding is possible and where no prior map data exists, as part of NASA planetary robotic efforts directed towards enabling a future mission to the sub-surface ocean of Europa, the 4th moon of Jupiter. DEPTHX broke new ground on several fronts:
First mobile robotic system of any kind to implement 3D-SLAM (Simultaneous Localization And Mapping) as part of a real-time navigation engine.
First autonomous robotic system to explore and map a subterranean cavern (a hydrothermal spring).
First robotic system to autonomously decide where, when and how to collect a biological sample.
The patent-pending DEPTHX design is shown in Figures 1, 2, 3, and 4. It was designed for survivability and precision maneuvering capability in 3D space. The external geometry is an axi-symmetric ellipsoid of revolution, which eliminates snag points in unknown and cluttered environments. It also allows the vehicle to be "spun up" in autonomous mode with very low energy. This technique, combined with high-resolution sonar imaging systems and precision navigation allows for dense geo-registered 3D maps to be rapidly generated in unknown environments. It is this dense 3D point cloud that serves as the feedstock to the 3D-SLAM navigation engine described below.
We are developing an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) capable of generating for the first time, 3-D biogeochemical datasets in the extreme environment of a perennially ice-covered Antarctic dry valley lake. The ENDURANCE (Environmentally Non - Disturbing Under - ice Robotic ANtarctic Explorer) will map the under - ice lake dimensions of West Lake Bonney in the McMurdo Dry Valleys, and be equipped to measure temperature, electrical conductivity, ambient light, chlorophyll-a, Dissolved Organic Matter, pH and redox of the water column in the entire lake. Visible imaging will also be performed on the benthic microbial mats, other lake bottom materials, lake ice bottom and the glacier contact, for all of which there is a paucity of data. The AUV is being specifically designed to minimize impact on the environment it is working in. This is primarily to meet strict Antarctic environmental protocols, but will also be a useful feature for planetary protection and improved planetary science in the future.
Researchers from NASA and the University of Illinois at Chicago atop the frozen surface of Wisconsin's Lake Mendota this week are preparing for interplanetary exploration. Below them, under a sheet of ice more than a foot (30 centimeters) thick, the space agency's new EnvironmentallyNon-Disturbing Under-Ice Robotic AntarcticExplorer (ENDURANCE) maps the lake's underwater terrain. If this and subsequent voyages are successful, a similar vessel could be sent to navigate the suspected liquidwater under the frozen surface of the ocean on Jupiter's moon Europa by the year 2028.
ENDURANCE, a $2.3-million project funded by NASA's Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) program, is an autonomous vehicle designed to operate underwater below the ice. Its mission: to gather environmental data (such as samples of microbial life) and create three-dimensional maps of undersea topography.
NASA's ENDURANCE Completes Antarctica Trials December 28th, 2008, 09:58 GMT| By Tudor Vieru
Lake Bonney, an underground lake in the Antarctica, encased in 15 feet (approx 5 meters) of solid ice, was the place where NASA's Environmentally Non-Disturbing Under-ice Robotic Antarctic Explorer (ENDURANCE) passed its designated tests, which are among the last it will undergo before leaving Earth for good and fly towards Jupiter's moon Europa. There, the device will enter below the satellite's crust, in hopes of finding life in the suspected liquid water body below. Though no one can be sure of what's really beneath Europa's surface, NASA deemed the mission as feasible and is now preparing for it
Already, the robotic probe exceeded expectations, as it discovered a new type of microbes, in a colony deep inside Lake Bonney. The harsh conditions in this place resemble those in outer space, which is why it was selected as the testing grounds for the robot. The machine proved to work flawlessly the second time around, being able to find its way inside the lake, using onboard navigation systems, and being able to detect and avoid all obstructions in its path.
In previous tests, ENDURANCE experienced a series of malfunctions with its engines and sonars, which rendered it barely able to reach the starting point and be recovered by scientists at the University of Illinois, in Chicago. Even as the probe was transported to Antarctica, some of the scientists working on it voiced their concerns regarding whether or not the machine would function properly. But all tests conducted thus far proved successful beyond expectations, and its trials are due to end a few days from now.
If the project is approved, then the robot will be carried all the way to Jupiter and delivered to the planet's most puzzling moon, Europa, where scientists hope to discover microscopic lifeforms in the suspected oceans below the planet's crust. ENDURANCE will then have to prove its ability to navigate potentially hazardous waters and hidden canals, while it attempts to identify microbes or other living microorganisms.
Summary: The NASA-funded ENDURANCE project has completed its second field season robotically exploring the waters of an ice-covered lake in Antarctica. Insight gained by the expedition will help scientists prepare for a future mission to Jupiter’s moon Europa
Evidence found by NASA’s Galileo spacecraft of an ocean on Europa put the giant Jovian moon on the A-list of worlds worth investigating for signs of extraterrestrial life.
Exploring that ocean won’t be easy: It’s covered by ice perhaps as much as 100 kilometers (62 miles) thick. But late last year, a group of NASA-funded scientists and engineers took an important step toward figuring out how it might be done. The ENDURANCE project (ENDURANCE stands for Environmentally Non-Disturbing Under-Ice Robotic Antarctic Explorer) wrapped up its second field season at Lake Bonney, an ice-covered lake in Antarctica’s Dry Valleys.
Lake Bonney is composed of two lobes, connected by a narrow channel. At the west end of the west lobe, Taylor Glacier dips down to and below the lake’s ice cover. The lip of the glacier, a small underwater ice shelf, sticks out into the lake some 17 meters (56 feet) below its surface.
As they had done during the project’s first field season in 2008, EUDURANCE team members began the 2009 season by melting a hole 2 meters (6.6 feet) wide in Lake Bonney’s ice cover and constructing a temporary headquarters around it, complete with a crane capable of lowering the 1300-kilogram (1.4-ton) robot into the lake.