The 2,430th Meeting of the Society

December 4, 2020 at 8:00 PM

Zoom Webinar

The TRIPLE Project

A System to Explore Europa’s Icy Oceans

Christoph Waldmann

TRIPLE Project Co-Director
MARUM Center for Marine Environmental Sciences
University of Bremen


About the Lecture

In 2004 NASA’s Cassini mission revealed the first evidence for an extra-terrestrial water ocean: a massive body of water lying beneath the ice surface of Saturn’s moon Enceladus. Since then scientists have gathered evidence that many other ice-crusted moons of the outer solar system harbor huge water reservoirs beneath their surfaces. Since the availability of water is considered an essential element for the development of life, these water-harboring moons are now top candidates in the search for extraterrestrial life.

ESA’s and NASA’s primary focus in exploring these icy moons is on Jupiter’s moon Europa. Due to the immense thickness of its ice surface – typically several kilometers – getting a robotic probe to the surface of Europa and then down through the surface poses daunting design and technical challenges. And beyond the tasks of reaching Europa and getting down through the ice, the probe must also be capable of exploring the ocean and getting the results of its exploration back to earth. One particular challenge is designing a probe that can operate in the extreme environment of space, core through solid ice and then “swim” in the cold water below. Meeting these challenges require merging engineering knowledge from the marine sciences and merging it with the design parameters and technologies for deep space missions.

The goal of Germany’s TRIPLE project is to develop a tri-partite deep space probe for exploring Europa’s oceans. The project involves developing three main hardware components: the IceShuttle, a basic technology carrier and fast melting probe; the nanoAUV, a miniaturized autonomous submersible vehicle for exploring and sampling Europa’s oceans; and AstroBioLab: a sample analysis platform with a particular goal of looking for signs of life.

The TRIPLE project consists of several parallel projects, each focused on a particular technology component of the TRIPLE system. Twenty-six individual German development teams are involved in the project, and future international collaboration is in the planning stages. Current plans call for all three components to be in a field test by 2027, in the Dome C region of Antarctica, the best terrestrial analog for the likely conditions in Europa’s icy ocean.

The presentation will discuss the basic design of the technical system, its evolution from fundamental considerations and constraints, and how basic principles and technologies from the development of terrestrial exploration drones – from those that fly to those that plunge deep into the oceans – are being utilized in the design of the mission hardware and software. Major technical barriers that have to be overcome lie in the miniaturization of the underwater vehicle which poses significant hydrodynamics and energy challenges. Another challenge will be integrating the entire sensor suite into the vehicle hull. Technical concepts to solve these issues and the overall systems engineering strategy will be discussed.

About the Speaker

Christoph Waldmann is an ocean scientist, a research manager for European and national funded projects, and an expert in spatial data infrastructures. He is the co-director of the TRIPLE project and he leads a research group at the Center for Marine Environmental Sciences (MARUM), a research faculty at the University of Bremen funded through the excellence initiative of the Federal German government. He serves as a member of an Expert Team of the World Meteorological Organization and as a lecturer at the Technical University of Luebeck in Germany.

His academic research has focused on the development, application and evaluation of ocean sensors and underwater platforms. Since 2012 he has been actively involved in bridging the gap between ocean and space sciences to promote the exploration of Ocean Worlds.

He is an author on more than 110 technical papers and 10 popular articles. He has given over 100 technical talks and over 20 popular lectures and speeches about ocean sciences, data management strategies, and emerging technologies in the field of ocean sciences. He has contributed to several books and strategy.

He is a senior member of the IEEE Ocean Engineering Society, a member of the Advisory Board of the NOAA/IOOS QARTOD program, and a member of the American Geophysical Society.

Christoph earned his Diploma Degree and his PhD degree in Applied Physics at the University of Kiel, Germany.