DepthX - Autonomous Underwater Craft

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brellis

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Washington Post Article<br /><br /><font color="orange">It may not show up on MapQuest, but NASA scientists are betting that the best route to Jupiter and its ice-crusted moon Europa runs through an underwater cavern in Mexico.<br /><br />Though the space mission is probably 30 years off, the trek begins in earnest today outside the city of Tampico. A 60-ton crane is scheduled to lower a giant orange robot dubbed "Clementine" into what is believed to be the deepest flooded sinkhole in the world.<br /><br />For the next two weeks, the fully autonomous robot, which bears an uncanny resemblance to a Volkswagen Beetle, will plumb the previously inaccessible microbial mysteries of the sinkhole -- or "cenote" -- El Zacatón.<br /><br />Relying on an eclectic team of scuba divers, engineers, biologists and geochemists, NASA is hoping the mission will be the first leg on its journey to Europa.<br /><br />"We're learning to explore Europa by first exploring a Mexican cenote," said John Rummel, a senior scientist for astrobiology at NASA.<br /><br />The $5 million, three-year Deep Phreatic Thermal Explorer (Depthx) project is an important test drive of a computerized, underwater vehicle that makes all of its own decisions -- where to swim, which samples to collect and how to get home. Each day, the battery-powered robot will travel deeper into the sinkhole, exploring nooks and crannies that human divers could never reach.<br /><br />If Clementine performs well, a retooled version will head to Antarctica's Lake Bonney next year. Scientists think the conditions there -- vast thermal waterways below frozen ice -- more closely resemble those of Europa.<br /><br />In developing Depthx, engineers aimed to build a machine that behaves like a microbiologist, said John R. Spear, an environmental microbiologis</font> <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><font size="2" color="#ff0000"><em><strong>I'm a recovering optimist - things could be better.</strong></em></font> </p> </div>
 
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brellis

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Of course, they're going to have to trim her down a little for a Europa mission. "Ahem -- you want a 60-ton crane on the surface of Europa? Psssh, yea right!" <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><font size="2" color="#ff0000"><em><strong>I'm a recovering optimist - things could be better.</strong></em></font> </p> </div>
 
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brellis

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thanks doc! this is really cool, i hope their tests go well. <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><font size="2" color="#ff0000"><em><strong>I'm a recovering optimist - things could be better.</strong></em></font> </p> </div>
 
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3488

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Very interesting.<br /><br />I hope it goes well.<br /><br />Andrew Brown. <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><font color="#000080">"I suddenly noticed an anomaly to the left of Io, just off the rim of that world. It was extremely large with respect to the overall size of Io and crescent shaped. It seemed unbelievable that something that big had not been visible before".</font> <em><strong><font color="#000000">Linda Morabito </font></strong><font color="#800000">on discovering that the Jupiter moon Io was volcanically active. Friday 9th March 1979.</font></em></p><p><font size="1" color="#000080">http://www.launchphotography.com/</font><br /><br /><font size="1" color="#000080">http://anthmartian.googlepages.com/thisislandearth</font></p><p><font size="1" color="#000080">http://web.me.com/meridianijournal</font></p> </div>
 
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CalliArcale

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Sweet! I was watching a program on the Science Channel last night about possible technology for exploring Europa, so this is at the forefront of my mind today. <img src="/images/icons/wink.gif" /> Of course, I've always been interested in the idea; it's an intriguing engineering challenge.<br /><br />The big challenges in my mind are autonomy (this thing will have to steer around completely unknown ice caverns without human help) and communications; it is not without reason that submarines usually have to either surface or deploy an antenna buoy to communicate with the surface. Water is a good shield against EM, including radio waves. Sure, you can boost the power, but power is such a precious commodity on a spacecraft.<br /><br />Interesting stuff! Thanks for sharing! <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p> </p><p><font color="#666699"><em>"People assume that time is a strict progression of cause to effect, but actually from a non-linear, non-subjective viewpoint it's more like a big ball of wibbly wobbly . . . timey wimey . . . stuff."</em>  -- The Tenth Doctor, "Blink"</font></p> </div>
 
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brellis

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CNN Article - nothing new to report, but a nice article <img src="/images/icons/smile.gif" /><br /><br />How Low Can They Go? - geology.com article with pics of Depthx being lowered into the cenote.<br /><br /><font color="orange">When I arrived at Rancho La Azufrosa last night (Wednesday), the DEPTHX team was wrapping up a very successful day. The robot had just made the first ever map of the bottom of El Zacatón using its sonar sensors. Finally, a picture of the mysterious depths that eluded two divers 13 years ago was coming into focus.<br /><br />As it turns out, the bottom of Zacatón is sloped, starting at about 290 meters at its shallowest, sloping down to over 300 meters. The exact depth is a little uncertain because where the floor should meet the vertical wall, there is a 15 meter high indentation which the sonar sensors didn't penetrate. Is it just a little bowl shaped hollow? Is it the entrance to a hidden passage? If so, where does it lead? Could the sinkhole actually be connected to much deeper chambers? The researchers are now interested in sending the robot back to this part of the sinkhole to explore this anomalous area.<br />Ironically, Jim Bowden, when he dived to 282 meters in 1994 was achingly close to the bottom. Had he dived just a few meters deeper, he would have stood on a muddy, sloping floor. His dive lights would surely have allowed him to see the ground around his feet. Because of the carefully choreographed dance that was required to make the world's deepest scuba dive, there wouldn't have been time to linger and conduct any scientific investigations. After dropping nearly 1,000 feet in just 11 minutes, he had to immediately begin a several hour return to the surface. Tanks were strategically positioned along a safety line to provide him with the appropriate mixture of oxygen, nitrogen and heli</font> <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><font size="2" color="#ff0000"><em><strong>I'm a recovering optimist - things could be better.</strong></em></font> </p> </div>
 
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mstar218

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remember HAL's last words: "ALL THESE WORLDS ARE YOURS EXCEPT EUROPA. ATTEMPT NO LANDINGS THERE" <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <font color="#003366">It's better to be a Pirate than to join the Navy</font> <em>~ Steve Jobs</em> </div>
 
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h2ouniverse

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Unfortunately, agencies (NASA, ESA...) seem to have received the message. To their discharge, the radiation level is so high at Europa's surface that a mission would have to be very short for the orbiter or the surface relay needed to transpond the signals from any slow-10km-ice-melting-then-ocean-swimming robots. The agencies are just considering first step (reconnaissance orbiters to spot best landsites). The easiest way to do exobiology on Europa woud be to spot areas of very recent upsurge of water, and send there a surface robot digging 1 or 2m to look for frozen exofish (or exoshrimps). This is wonderful that we advance the technology of autonomous submarine exploration (for spin-offs may occur on Earthly applications) but that is useless for Europa unless we find a way to generate the energy needed for making our way through the 10km(?)-iceshelf. <br />Best regards<br />Joel
 
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brellis

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hi H2O <font color="yellow">The agencies are just considering first step (reconnaissance orbiters to spot best landsites). The easiest way to do exobiology on Europa woud be to spot areas of very recent upsurge of water, and send there a surface robot digging 1 or 2m to look for frozen exofish (or exoshrimps). This is wonderful that we advance the technology of autonomous submarine exploration (for spin-offs may occur on Earthly applications) but that is useless for Europa unless we find a way to generate the energy needed for making our way through the 10km(?)-iceshelf.</font>- at what point in mission design should we start thinking <i>more complex, more options, more expensive</i> in conjunction with <i>fast, better, cheaper</i>? A jovian mothership laden with dozens of mini-orbiters and mini-landers could do a longterm Cassini-style set of orbits around Jupiter, releasing Huygens-style mini-landers on Io, Callisto, Ganymede and Europa at different locations on each moon as it goes through its program of shifting trajectories around the system. Once a mini-lander/orbiter is designed, would the ratio of cost to result not change dramatically if many were produced?<br /><br />Testing autonomous navigation technology to explore the hard-to-reach places on Earth will help future unmanned missions all across the solar system. Once they get the size down to something that doesn't need a 60-ton crane will help, hehe.<br /><br />Hey, I know, let's land a self-replicating black monolith on Europa, and let it figure out the place! <img src="/images/icons/tongue.gif" /> <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><font size="2" color="#ff0000"><em><strong>I'm a recovering optimist - things could be better.</strong></em></font> </p> </div>
 
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brellis

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From geology.com<br /><br /><font color="orange"> The robot successfully demonstrated co-called SLAM technology in three dimensions. In other words, it’s the first robot with the ability to simultaneously create maps of unexplored places and use the maps to determine where it is in the world, not just in two dimensions, but in every direction. The robotics and software experts at Carnegie Mellon University have truly pushed the envelope in robotic mapping and navigation.<br />The microbiologists from Colorado School of Mines are ecstatic. They’ve collected samples of microbes from the water and rock walls at 115, 195 and 270 meters deep in Zacatón. They’ve already discovered nine entirely new classes of microbe (to add to the hundred or so known classes) and expect the total to rise to about 20 when the final DNA analyses are completed in a few months. It was possible to collect those samples because of the hard work of engineers at Southwest Research Institute who designed the robot’s sample arm and other scientific instruments.<br /><br />The mere fact that the robot mostly does what it was intended to do is something of an engineering miracle. As Bill Stone, owner of Stone Aerospace (the company that designed and fabricated the robot) and principal investigator for DEPTHX, points out all of this was achieved for only $5 million. That might sound like a lot, but he says a large firm such as Lockheed Martin would have a hard time pulling off such a project for under $50 million. He credits the team’s success to being small, multidisciplinary, independent and flexible.<br /><br />The DEPTHX project will wind down in a few days, but in some ways, this is just the beginning. Next year, a revamped version of the robot will go to Antarctica to explore Lake Bonney, an even closer analog to the ice-covered ocean of Europa.<br /><br />Eventually, we may have the technology we need as a species to send a robot out in</font> <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><font size="2" color="#ff0000"><em><strong>I'm a recovering optimist - things could be better.</strong></em></font> </p> </div>
 
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gunsandrockets

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Nice links! Thanx.<br /><br />What a clever machine. Very interesting.
 
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h2ouniverse

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Brellis,<br />I would like so much that agencies dare more, like what you are suggesting! A swarm of minibots is worth being developed, even at high cost, for there are many valuable spin-offs. The point is that agencies are too shy on that subjects: some have ideas about hard landers and impactors to be borne by Jupiter and/or Europa orbiters. But even that seems too much. (sigh)<br />Moreover, they always underestimate the benefits of recurring designs. They even do not believe industry when we say so... The fight is under way but there is a very high probability, I am afraid, that unless a big US project is set up, we may have to wait a long time before seeing a real lander on Europa.
 
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brellis

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I was poking around for updates on the Depthx tests at Zacaton, found this humorous pic on the UT Jackson School of Geosciences site. Sounds like that crew has a good time! <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><font size="2" color="#ff0000"><em><strong>I'm a recovering optimist - things could be better.</strong></em></font> </p> </div>
 
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brellis

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Check out the DepthX Homepage - they have lots to report, lots of pics from the trip.<br /><br />Sounds like a successful mission!<br /><br />There's a cool movie of the dive. They ran it without lights and cameras, and they ran it without a tether. They have a bundle of science data to go through. They dropped it into 2 other cenotes. <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><font size="2" color="#ff0000"><em><strong>I'm a recovering optimist - things could be better.</strong></em></font> </p> </div>
 
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mvp347

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Hey, I've been lurking around on this forum for a long time. <br />I was wondering if the radiation and lack of energy problems could be solved in the near future now that researchers have discovered the "radiation-eating" fungi.<br /><br />http://www.space.com/scienceastronomy/070529_fungus_radiation.html<br /><br />If they can do enough research on it and put together a new technology that would harness radiation and turn it into energy, it would greatly cut costs of the missions and many more missions, such as this Europa mission, would become reality.<br />Jupiter gives off so much radiation that turning it into energy would enable us to really solve what is under all that ice on Europa. An energy source like that would also open up the road to setting up Lunar and Martian bases.
 
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brellis

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I was wondering the very same thing when I read that story <img src="/images/icons/smile.gif" /><br /><br />reikel made this post in a thread where this story was brought up. <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><font size="2" color="#ff0000"><em><strong>I'm a recovering optimist - things could be better.</strong></em></font> </p> </div>
 
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brellis

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Welcome the the surface, by the way! <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><font size="2" color="#ff0000"><em><strong>I'm a recovering optimist - things could be better.</strong></em></font> </p> </div>
 
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3488

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Hi all.<br /><br />Did you see the Jupiter moon Europa thread I started quite a while back??<br /><br />Andrew Brown. <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><font color="#000080">"I suddenly noticed an anomaly to the left of Io, just off the rim of that world. It was extremely large with respect to the overall size of Io and crescent shaped. It seemed unbelievable that something that big had not been visible before".</font> <em><strong><font color="#000000">Linda Morabito </font></strong><font color="#800000">on discovering that the Jupiter moon Io was volcanically active. Friday 9th March 1979.</font></em></p><p><font size="1" color="#000080">http://www.launchphotography.com/</font><br /><br /><font size="1" color="#000080">http://anthmartian.googlepages.com/thisislandearth</font></p><p><font size="1" color="#000080">http://web.me.com/meridianijournal</font></p> </div>
 
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brellis

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hey Andrew<br /><br />thanks for the reminder. got it on my fave's now. It's in my "five"!<br /><br />how's your new'puter behaving?<br /><br />Brad <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><font size="2" color="#ff0000"><em><strong>I'm a recovering optimist - things could be better.</strong></em></font> </p> </div>
 
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3488

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Thanks Brad,<br /><br />Puter not bad, still got no e-mail though, although the web works well on it.<br /><br />The BT phoneline had to be re-newed (BT mistake not mine, so did not cost me),<br />so a huge improvement.<br /><br />Andrew Brown. <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><font color="#000080">"I suddenly noticed an anomaly to the left of Io, just off the rim of that world. It was extremely large with respect to the overall size of Io and crescent shaped. It seemed unbelievable that something that big had not been visible before".</font> <em><strong><font color="#000000">Linda Morabito </font></strong><font color="#800000">on discovering that the Jupiter moon Io was volcanically active. Friday 9th March 1979.</font></em></p><p><font size="1" color="#000080">http://www.launchphotography.com/</font><br /><br /><font size="1" color="#000080">http://anthmartian.googlepages.com/thisislandearth</font></p><p><font size="1" color="#000080">http://web.me.com/meridianijournal</font></p> </div>
 
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brellis

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from geology.com<br /><br /><font color="orange">At Last, Back in the Water<br />From: Marc Airhart, June 20, 2007<br /><br /><br />I had the good pleasure of sitting down with Marcus Gary, a doctoral candidate at the University of Texas of Austin and one of the primary members of the DepthX team, to talk about what happened after I left Mexico on Monday, May 21.<br /><br />After several days out of commission, the DepthX crew was finally able to return to work on Friday, May 25. In the last three frenzied days of the mission, the robot returned to the bottom of Cenote Zacatón to investigate a mysterious feature in the deepest corner. It turned out to be only an alcove, not the entrance to some exotic new tunnel. I asked Marcus if he was disappointed. He replied zen-like, "No. That's science. It just is what it is."<br /><br />The team also took the robot to two other cenotes in the system -- Caracol and Verde -- and mapped them. Gary, who has explored these cenotes as a scuba diver for over 10 years and more recently as a hydrologist, was pleased to find that cartoon cross sections he had drawn of the cenotes several years ago based on limited data turned out to be essentially correct. Zacatón is a deep, cylindrical shaft, while Caracol and Verde are shallower and more bowl shaped.<br /><br />In a way, Gary seems relieved the project is over. There was a deluge of media interest while the scientists were working. Reporters and photographers from Reuters, Discovery Channel, Astrobiology, and Mexican newspapers and television news stations all visited the ranch. There was also a steady stream of high school and university students, local officials and townspeople vying for a glimpse of the robot in action. He acknowledged the importance of getting the word out about his research, but in the future hopes to have the media visit the site at the end of the project, when most of the science is done.<br /><br />What's next for Gar</font> <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><font size="2" color="#ff0000"><em><strong>I'm a recovering optimist - things could be better.</strong></em></font> </p> </div>
 
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bdewoody

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I thought the big problem was finding a way to be absolutely sure that the robot will not be carrying any type of lifeform with it either to lake vostok in Antarctica or to Europa. Scientists are very concerned about the possibility of contaminating either place. <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <em><font size="2">Bob DeWoody</font></em> </div>
 
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brellis

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cool <br /><font color="yellow">A sea-going robotic glider that harvests heat energy from the ocean has been tested by US scientists.<br /><br />The yellow, torpedo-shaped machine has been combing the depths of seas around the Caribbean since December 2007.<br /><br />The team which developed the autonomous vehicle say it has covered "thousands of kilometres" during the tests.<br /><br />The team believe the glider - which needs no batteries - could undertake oceanographic surveys for up to six months at a time.<br /><br />"We are tapping a virtually unlimited energy source for propulsion," said Dave Fratantoni of the Wood's Hole Oceanographic Institute (WHOi). </font>/safety_wrapper> <div class="Discussion_UserSignature"> <p><font size="2" color="#ff0000"><em><strong>I'm a recovering optimist - things could be better.</strong></em></font> </p> </div>
 
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