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Technology Factsheet


Category: Robotics > Characterization and Inspection > Underwater System
Reference # : Model No :

DepthX (DEep Phreatic THermal eXplorer) is a NASA Astrobiology Science and Technology for Exploring Planets (ASTEP) project to design, develop, and field-test a robotic vehicle to explore extreme aqueous environments. The principal astrobiological science objective of DepthX is to develop an advanced methodology and protocol for the discrimination of microbial life in a sub-aqueous environment. The methodology and protocol might be used in exploration and search for life in locations such as Europa, the sixth moon of Jupiter. This exploration required the design, development, and demonstration of a fully autonomous architecture for intelligent biological sample detection and collection. Southwest Research Institute (SwRI) designed, assembled, and tested the science package capable of performing the following functions:

* Acquiring data from a hierarchical suite of on-board microbial life detection sensors and processors and analyzing the data to determine whether life is present
* Aseptically collecting samples and returning them for ex-situ laboratory analysis
* Autonomously searching for life and returning samples. This capability will be tested in El Zacatón, an unexplored, water-filled sinkhole in Mexico.

Site: *
TRL:Demonstration (7-8)
TRL2: *
Tether: *
Waterproof: *
Payload: *
Reach: *
Manipulator: *




The DepthX science package includes environmental sensors, cameras, a microscope, an extensible probe arm, means for collecting both solid and liquid samples, and a dedicated computer for analyzing data and controlling the sample collection subsystems.

As the vehicle explores, the science computer analyzes sensor data to identify locations with conditions where life forms are likely to be found. To accomplish this, SwRI designed a suite of instruments including:

* Three cameras with onboard image analysis software
* Camera view of microbial life
* A custom telescoping probe arm
* A coring system to collect samples from the cell walls
* Flexible containers for collecting water samples
* An on-board computer for image and data analysis as well as control of sample collection

Operational Experience:



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