ENDURANCE Cold Water Test

The Environmentally Non-Disturbing Under-ice Robotic Antarctic Explorer (ENDURANCE) is a $2.3 million project funded by NASA’s Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets Program. The probe is an autonomous underwater vehicle designed to swim untethered under ice, creating three-dimensional maps of underwater environments. The probe will collect data on conditions in those environments and take samples of microbial life. Researchers plan to ship the probe to a permanently frozen lake in Antarctica for operations later this year.

The ENDURANCE robot, disassembled so that engineers could repair its thruster controllers.
Photo Credit: Henry Bortman

Astrobiology Magazine’s Henry Bortman reports on the probe’s progress in the field.

Madison, Wisconsin
Field Notes – February 13, 2008

NASA’s ENDURANCE robot spent the morning in the repair shop today, after encountering glitches yesterday during its first test in the icy waters of Lake Mendota in Madison, Wisconsin. The goal of the ENDURANCE project is to explore Lake Bonney, an ice-covered lake in Antarctica. That, in turn, will be a step toward a possible future mission to explore the ice-covered ocean of Jupiter’s giant moon Europa.

DEPTHX, an earlier configuration of the same robot, was tested last year in a flooded sinkhole in northeastern Mexico. Both DEPTHX and ENDURANCE were funded by NASA’s ASTEP (Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets) program.

The test in Madison is the first time it has been tried out in below-freezing weather. The temperature in Madison today reached a high of about 17 degrees Fahrenheit (about minus 8.5 degrees Celsius). Before heading to the remote Lake Bonney site in Antarctica, the ENDURANCE team wanted to perform a cold-weather test somewhere they had ready access to tools and spare parts. The Lake Mendota test is being conducted just steps away from the Water Science and Limnology labs on the University of Wisconsin campus.

ENDURANCE was successfully tested in ice-covered Lake Mendota on Wednesday, February 13, 2008.
Photo Credit: Henry Bortman

The main problem today was the failure of some of the controllers for the robot’s vertical and horizontal thrusters. ENDURANCE also has developed a problem with its depth sensor. It’s unclear, however, that freezing temperatures are the cause of either of these problems. The controllers may have been damaged during the robot’s trip from its home in Austin, Texas to Madison. And the depth sensor problem appears to be caused by spurious electromagnetic radiation from a newly-installed power converter.

Testing will continue Thursday and Friday of this week.

Read the February 14th field notes.
Read the February 15th field notes.

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