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Under Thin Ice: First Round of Testing Completed on NASA-Funded Probe


New York, Feb 15, 2008

The first round of testing was completed today on a new robotic probe bound for Europa, one of Jupiter’s largest moons. Here on Earth, the autonomous underwater vehicle spent most of the past week exploring the icy waters of Lake Mendota on the campus of the University of Wisconsin, Madison.

Funded by NASA’s Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets Program, the Environmentally Non-Disturbing Under-ice Robotic Antarctic Explorer (ENDURANCE) is designed to swim untethered under ice, creating three-dimensional maps of underwater environments, collecting data on conditions in those environments, and taking samples of microbial life.

Several standards developed by members and accredited standards developers of the American National Standards Institute (ANSI) guide the design, development, and testing of equipment of unmanned undersea vehicles (UUV).

Basic UUV communications requirements are outlined in ASTM F2594-07, a standard guide developed by ASTM International. A companion guide on autonomy and control, ASTM F2541-06, addresses the need for UUVs to operate without constant human intervention.

ENDURANCE uses a pair of thrusters to navigate undersea environments at speeds of up to 1 to 1.5 meters per second. Another ASTM standard, ASTM F841-84(2006), provides general characteristics and interface details of propeller type, fixed-tunnel thruster units for marine vessels.

During this week’s testing process, a sealed lithium-ion power supply allowed ENDURANCE to remain underwater for up to eight hours at a time. An American National Standard from the National Electrical Manufacturers Association (NEMA), ANSI C18.2M, Part 1-2007 provides specifications and guidelines for portable rechargeable cells and batteries based on nickel-cadmium, nickel-metal hydride, and lithium-ion electrochemical systems.

Later this year, ENDURANCE will complete another round of testing at a permanently frozen Antarctic lake. If the probe’s technology is deemed successful, it may be implemented on a possible underwater exploration mission on Europa, where vast under-ice oceans are thought to harbor microbial life.

For more information about ENDURANCE and the possible Europa mission, view the NASA press release.

ANSI Nanotechnology Standards Panel