The engineering challenges of an autonomous underwater vehicle bound for Antarctica
To address strategic science questions about Antarctica and the Southern Ocean, the Antarctic Gateway Partnership project (AGP), a Special Research Initiative of the Australian Research Council (ARC), have acquired a state of the art Autonomous Underwater Vehicle (AUV). This technology will enable Australia to collect, for the first time, data which is vital to understanding the physical, chemical and biological processes at work around and under Antarctic ice shelves. This will lead, for example, to much better estimates of ice sheet contributions to sea level change.
An intensive specification and tendering process has led AGP to acquire an Explorer model AUV, designed and built by International Submarine Engineering (ISE) of Canada. Granted the Palawa Kani name nupiri muka, meaning ‘eye of the sea’, this 6.5 m, 1600 kg vehicle is purpose built to address the challenges of deployment beneath both sea ice and ice-shelves. ISE AUVs have an impressive record of under-ice deployments beneath Arctic sea ice, but many challenges remain for the planned deployment of nupiri muka in the Antarctic. Scheduled for early 2019, the AUV will be launched from Davis Station to transit toward the Sörsdal Glacier, where it will survey both the seabed below the ice-shelf and the morphology of the ice itself.
In an environment such as this, many engineering challenges present themselves. These include: how to safely and reliably launch and recover such a large vehicle from land in a variety of wind and sea conditions; control and monitoring of the vehicle from a small support craft with limited ability to intervene with the AUV; safe transiting over long distances in areas of coastal obstruction and potential sea ice; risk mitigation for remote operation in what is arguably the most difficult deployment environment; operation of coincident payloads for maximised data return; and the development of emergency and rescue procedures when operating beneath ice, where mission abort or surfacing are unavailable and any fault can lead to AUV loss.
Over the past 12 months, the AGP team have worked to address these challenges and will present their results to date, as well as plans for future work.
Session Category : Autonomous Observing