Using Acoustic Navigation in the Search for Extra-terrestrial Life


In preparation for a possible future space mission that aims to search for life on Saturn's moon Enceladus, an RWTH-led team of reseachers has successfully tested acoustic navigation technologies in the Italian Ortler Alps. In this endeavor, RWTH collaborates with a consortium of partners, including TU Brauschweig, the University of Bremen, FH Aachen, and the Aachen company GSI GmbH.

RWTH Aachen RWTH researchers put the melting proble in place, securing its perpendicular entry into the ice.

The researchers tested an intelligent acoustic sensor network which allows for the navigation of an autonomous probe within an ice volume, such as an alpine glacier. The technology had been developed and built within the EnEx-RANGE project – EnEx stands for Enceldaus Explorer –, which is part of the EnEx initiative of the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

The network is to be used in a future space mission on Enceladus, a Saturn moon that hides large water reservoirs under its thick icy surface, which, researchers assume, might contain tiny organisms. The acoustic positioning and reconnaissance systems are to accompany, localize and navigate a melting and drilling probe which aims to take an uncontaminated sample of subglacial water and examine it on site.

In the alps, the researchers tested the localization and navigation of the “IceMole,” a melting probe developed by FH Aachen University of Applied Sciences. The positioning system, which consists of 13 autonomous pinger units (APUs) equipped with matched acoustic emitters and low noise acoustic receiver units, succeeded in providing information on the position of the probe, while the reconnaisance system acquired information about its surroundings with the help of sonography. The information, which makes its possible to precisely navigate the melting probe, was directly transmitted to the computers of the EnEx-CAUSE project, conducted at the University of Bremen.

Furthermore, the researchers tested other robust localization and terrain reconnaissance methods, for example with the help of magnetic field sensors, as developed within the enEx-MIE project conducted by TU Braunschweig.

At RWTH Aachen University, the Institute of Physics III B and the IMA & IfU Cybernetics Lab are contributing to this project.

For further information, please also refer to the web pages on the Enceladus Explorer provided by the Institute of Physics III B. A comprehensive article on the topic is available at the DLR website: Searching for Life in the Depths of Enceladus

Source: Press and Communications