Design of an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle to Calibrate the Europa Clipper Ice-Penetrating Radar

January 15, 2015 - via Stone Aerospace

Jupiter's moon Europa has been prioritized as the target for the Europa Clipper flyby mission. A key science objective for the mission is to remotely characterize the ice shell and any subsurface water, including their heterogeneity, and the nature of surface-ice-ocean exchange. This objective is a critical component of the mission's overarching goal of assessing the habitability of Europa. The instrument targeted for addressing key aspects of this goal is an ice-penetrating radar (IPR).

As a primary goal of our work, we will tightly couple airborne IPR studies of the Ross Ice Shelf by the Europa Clipper radar team with ground-truth data to be obtained from sub-glacial sonar and bio-geochemical mapping of the corresponding ice-water and water-rock interfaces using an advanced autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV). The ARTEMIS vehicle - a heavily morphed long-range, low drag variant of the highly successful 4-degree-of-freedom hovering sub-ice ENDURANCE bot -- will be deployed from a sea-ice drill hole adjacent the McMurdo Ice Shelf (MIS) and will perform three classes of missions.

The first includes original exploration and high definition mapping of both the ice-water interface and the benthic interface on a length scale (approximately 10 kilometers under-ice penetration radius) that will definitively tie it to the synchronous airborne IPR over-flights. These exploration and mapping missions will be conducted at up to 10 different locations along the MIS in order to capture varying ice thickness and seawater intrusion into the ice shelf.

Following initial mapping characterization, the vehicle will conduct astrobiology-relevant proximity operations using bio-assay sensors (custom-designed UV fluorescence and machine-vision-processed optical imagery) followed by point-targeted studies at regions of interest. Sample returns from the ice-water interface will be triggered autonomously using real-time-processed instrument data and onboard decision-to-collect algorithms.

ARTEMIS will be capable of conducting precision hovering proximity science in an unexplored environment, followed by high speed (1.5 m/s) return to the melt hole. The navigation system will significantly advance upon the successes of the prior DEPTHX and ENDURANCE systems and several novel pose-drift correction technologies will be developed and tested under ice during the project.

The method of down-hole deployment and auto-docking return will be extended to a vertically-deployed, horizontally-recovered concept that is depth independent and highly relevant to an ice-water deployment on an icy moon. The presentation will discuss the mission down-select architecture for the ARTEMIS vehicle and its implications for the design of a Europa 'fast mover' carrier AUV, the onboard instrument suite, and the Antarctic mission CONOPS. The vehicle and crew will deploy to Antarctica in the 2015/2016 season.

American Geophysical Union, Fall Meeting 2013, abstract #P53A-1844
Stone, W.; Siegel, V.; Kimball, P.; Richmond, K.; Flesher, C.; Hogan, B.; Lelievre, S.

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Author:William Stone