Funding Project TRIPLE-GNCCopyright: © Sebastian Meckel/MARUM
Development, Application, and Demonstration of the Guidance, Navigation, and Control, called GNC, System for an Autonomous Underwater Vehicle for Under-Ice Applications
- 01.06.2023 to 30.09.2026
It is perhaps the most exciting question of our human existence: Are we alone in the universe? Two of the most promising candidates for possible life in the solar system are Jupiter's moon Europa and Saturn's moon Enceladus. Both moons are covered by a massive layer of ice and beneath its surface huge oceans of liquid water are suspected. Water as a basic prerequisite for life and other life-friendly conditions make the two icy moons potential targets for future exploration missions for space agencies worldwide. For this reason, the German Aerospace Center, or DLR, has launched the project line "Technologies for Rapid Ice Penetration and subglacial Lake Exploration," called TRIPLE.Copyright: © DLR
Project Goals and Methods
The goal of the TRIPLE project line is to design and build a three-part exploration system to conduct scientific observations in waters under ice and to validate the associated functions during a demonstration mission in Antarctica in close collaboration with marine and space scientists. The planned system consists of a fully autonomous miniature submersible robot (nanoAUV), a semi-autonomous melting probe that melts through the ice shell and acts as a carrier system for the nanoAUV up to the ice-water interface, and an astrobiology laboratory (AstroBioLab) to study fluid samples.
In the TRIPLE-GNC project, the concepts from the previous projects TRIPLE-nanoAUV 1 and TRIPLE-MoDo (Phase 1) are to be transferred into a final design of the nanoAUV and the so-called Launch & Recovery System (LRS). The TRIPLE-GNC subproject aims to develop, test, and demonstrate the "Guidance, Navigation and Control" (GNC) system of the nanoAUV. Focus will be placed on autonomous exploration and docking with the LRS. In close cooperation with the partner projects, TRIPLE-nanoAUV 2 and TRIPLE-LifeDetect, the nanoAUV, LRS, and scientific sensor technology will be brought to operational maturity. The software developed for the nanoAUV and the LRS will be applied to the onboard computers, validated in several tests, and then demonstrated in field tests under the ice. The planned demonstration scenario for TRIPLE-GNC is a deployment under the Antarctic Ekström ice shelf near Neumayer III Station in spring 2026. For the demonstration, the LRS will be mechanically and electrically coupled with the IceCraft-1 melting probe developed within the TRIPLE-IceCraft project.
After melting through the ice sheet, the nanoAUV will undock from the LRS and undertake several exploration missions under the ice. In cooperation with the Alfred Wegener Institute (AWI), scientific data will be collected from the underside of the ice and in the water column. The mission at Neumayer III provides a technology demonstration for the subsequent mission in the Dome C region of Antarctica.
Innovations and Perspectives
In the project, critical technologies for exploration systems of waters under ice are being developed to enable contamination-free exploration of the ice moons, which are reaching the limits of current technologies. This concerns the design, the propulsion concept, the degree of autonomy, the underwater navigation, and the scientific payload of the diving robot. The concepts will be investigated in the envisaged follow-up project TRIPLE-nanoAUV 2 for their suitability for possible space missions to the icy moons. The overall system is expected to be demonstrated in the Dome C region of Antarctica and, if the results are positive, will qualify as a potential payload for future NASA exploration missions.Copyright: © Maximilian Nitsch/RWTH Aachen University