May 1st, 2007 - April 30th, 2010
NASA’s Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) Program is supporting ENDURANCE - the Environmentally Non-Disturbing Under-ice Robotic ANtarctic Explorer - to demonstrate concepts for exploring the ice-covered ocean on Jupiter’s moon Europa. ENDURANCE is designed to swim untethered under ice, in order to create three-dimensional maps of the underwater environment, and to collect data and samples of microbial life.
In preparation for a future mission to Europa, a series of field tests in Lake Mendota on the campus of the University of Wisconsin at Madison, and Lake Bonney, Antarctica have been conducted to prove that ENDURANCE is suited to operating in a cold environment. One successful mission to Antarctica was conducted in last fall 2008 with another scheduled fall 2009. Additional missions are anticipated with significant planning before a Europa mission will take place likely a couple of decades from now.
As part of the first field test in Antarctica, collected data was relayed back to EVL to generate three-dimensional images, maps and data renderings of the lake for analysis. Among EVL’s contributions to this project is the development of a visualization application that allows researchers to visualize and compare geo-referenced images of the ice sheet covering the lake. At present, the total dataset consists of more than 100,000 images, well suited for display on EVL’s high-resolution tiled display - LambdaVision. The tiled display allows scientists to simultaneously display hundreds of images from the acquired dataset in full resolution. The analysis of these images will help in understanding the distribution of sediments trapped in the ice surface. The goal of the ENDURANCE project at this stage, is to develop the required tools and techniques for use during the future mission to Europa.
This project is a collaboration between UIC’s departments of Earth and Environmental Science and Computer Science, NASA Ames Research Center, Montana State University and Stone Aerospace.