37th DPS Meeting, 4-9 September 2005
Session 18 Future Missions and Instrumentation
Poster, Monday, September 5, 2005, 6:00-7:15pm, Music Lecture Room 5

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[18.06] The DEPTHX Project: Autonomous Exploration of Subaqueous Environments

D. D. Durda (Southwest Research Institute), W. C. Stone (StoneAeroSPACE), DEPTHX Team

NASA's Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) program is a science-driven exploration program that funds investigations to explore extreme environments on this planet to help develop the scientific and technological foundations to search for life on other planets. The DEep Phreatic THermal Explorer project (DEPTHX) is an ASTEP-funded field campaign that is making rapid progress in fulfilling these goals by designing and developing the technologies and techniques for exploring the deep ocean under the icy crust of Jupiter's moon Europa and searching for signs of life there. The sonar mapping sub-unit of the DEPTHX vehicle was deployed in May 2005 in the deep (over 300 meters), water-filled cenote of Zacaton, in Tamaulipas, Mexico. Zacaton offers a diversity of microbial life that varies with depth in a geometrically unknown setting, making the cenote a perfect place to test autonomous life form detection, discrimination, and collection. Seven sonar drop sonde missions were conducted reaching a depth of 280 meters. Highly detailed, 3-dimensional co-registered maps of Zacaton's walls were derived from the sonar echo data, revealing for the first time the interior structure of the cenote and the fact that it continues as an unknown void below -280m. These data are now being used as proof tests for the 3D SLAM (simultaneous localization and mapping) algorithm being developed as the primary navigation sub-system for the vehicle.

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Bulletin of the American Astronomical Society, 37 #3
© 2004. The American Astronomical Soceity.