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Europa-Explorer: Mission Scenario

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This video shows the mission scenario developed within the Europa-Explorer-Project at DFKI-Bremen, Germany. For details on the project please refer to http://robotik.dfki-bremen.de/en/research/projects/eurex.html or the accompanying live demostration video https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9ULOdyiPUbU. Looking for life in our solar system is of great interest. A promising candidate for this search is Jupiter's moon Europa, as a deep-water ocean is assumed to lie under several kilometers of ice which could support extraterrestrial life. Reaching and exploring this ocean is investigated by researchers at the Robotics Innovation Center of the German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence (DFKI). In order to simulate analogous missions on Earth, they have developed an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) that can navigate safely through the water using a variety of sensors, along with an IceShuttle that the AUV uses as transportation through the ice and further as a base station. For this scenario, the DFKI researchers have developed the AUV Leng and the Teredo IceShuttle. Leng was designed as a long-range exploration vehicle. Its shape is specially adapted to meeting the mission requirements: the smallest possible diameter to fit in the IceShuttle, and a hydrodynamic profile to allow low-energy travel. The IceShuttle acts as a melting probe which transports the AUV through the ice with the aid of a thermal drilling mechanism. In order to minimize the energy required during drilling, a bore hole with the smallest possible cross-section is desired. Consequently the IceShuttle must be as narrow as possible. A particular focus of the project was the navigation capability of the underwater vehicle. To precisely locate itself, Leng is equipped with a variety of navigation sensors. Utilizing sound signals from the base station, the vehicle can determine its position similar to GPS. Based on the distance and angle of the signal, the system can calculate its position and can come back to the base station, where it can transmit the information collected via an interface to the IceShuttle and recharge its batteries. All of this must happen without control from Earth. The delay in communications with Earth is 33 to 53 minutes – too long to react spontaneously to new situations.