The miniature autonomous submersible explorer (MASE) has been proposed as a means of scientific exploration—especially, looking for signs of life—in harsh, relatively inaccessible underwater environments. Basically, the MASE would be a small instrumented robotic submarine (see figure) that could launch itself or could be launched from another vehicle. Examples of environments that might be explored by use of the MASE include subglacial lakes, deep-ocean hydrothermal vents, acidic or alkaline lakes, brine lenses in permafrost, and ocean regions under Antarctic ice shelves.

The MASE would be 20 cm long and 5 cm in diameter — small enough to be carried aboard another vehicle prior and to explore confined spaces inaccessible to larger exploratory vehicles.

The instrumentation carried aboard the MASE would include one or more high resolution video camera(s), circuitry for capturing image data from the cameras, and microelectromechanical systems-based (MEMS-based) sensors designed to gather scientific data under the extreme conditions (e.g., high pressure, high or low temperature, acidity or alkalinity) of the aqueous environment to be explored. The instrumentation would be contained in easily interchangeable modules. The MASE would be equipped for autonomous control, real-time processing of scientific data, and high-speed, full-duplex communication with a monitoring station via a fiber-optic tether.

The basic MASE concept allows for variations for different applications. In most applications now envisioned, the MASE would be designed as a disposable system to be used once.

This work was done by Alberto Behar, Fredrik Bruhn, and Frank Carsey of Caltech for NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory. For further information, access the Technical Support Package (TSP) free on-line at under the Machinery/Automation category. NPO-40501

This Brief includes a Technical Support Package (TSP).
Miniature Robotic Submarine for Harsh Environments

(reference NPO-40501) is currently available for download from the TSP library.

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This article first appeared in the October, 2004 issue of NASA Tech Briefs Magazine.

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