EurEx - Persistent under-ice navigation

One important aspect of future missions to ice-covered moons within our solar system is the exploration of the oceans underneath the ice. Based on the exploration concept developed in the Europa-Explorer project, the aim of the EurEx-LUNa project is to further evolve the under-ice navigation and exploration capabilities of an autonomous system and subsequently evaluate them in an analog mission. In order to allow for persistent exploration in challenging and difficult to access environments, both the software and the hardware of an autonomous underwater vehicle must be thoroughly tested and continuously improved. An essential part is the safe return of the underwater vehicle and to successfully attach to the docking interface, allowing data and energy exchange. To evaluate the capabilities and robustness of the overall system an analog mission will be carried out in an ice-covered lake.

Duration: 01.03.2020 till 30.09.2023
Donee: German Research Center for Artificial Intelligence GmbH
Sponsor: Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action
German Aerospace Center e.V.
Grant number: The EurEx-LUNa project is funded by the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWi) (Grant No. 50 NA 2002).
Application Field: Underwater Robotics
Space Robotics
Related Projects: EurEx
Europa-Explorer (12.2012- 04.2016)
EurEx-Safe Long-Term Navigation (09.2017- 10.2019)
Localization and mapping in confined underwater environments (09.2009- 07.2012)
Related Robots: BlueROV2
Documentation vehicle
Exploration AUV for long-distance-missions
Teredo IceShuttle
Through-Ice-Cap Transfer-Vehicle & Base Station

Project details

Schematic overview of a possible mission scenario. 0) ice-drill penetrated the ice-shield. 1) AUV has been released from the payload compartment. 2) AUV descends to ocean floor. 3) exploration using cameras/sonar and internal sensors. 4) ascend to the ice/water boundary. 5) return to ice-drill (using autonomous localization buoys) and docking for energy/data exchange. (Photo: Jan Albiez, DFKI GmbH)
Project team in Abisko, Sweden in front of tent on frozen lake: Marc Hildebrandt, Tom Creutz, Marius Wirtz, Michael Zipper, Bilal Wehbe (Photo: Annemarie Popp, DFKI GmbH)
Preraprations for a mission through the ice-hole (Photo: Annemarie Popp, DFKI GmbH)
A view of the docking-station and AUV DeepLeng from under the ice (Photo: Annemarie Popp, DFKI GmbH)
AUV DeepLeng docked into docking station (Photo: Annemarie Popp, DFKI GmbH)
From March 20 to April 2, 2022 five DFKI scientists traveled to the small northern Swedish town of Abisko in the national park of the same name on Lake Torneträsk. There, north of the Arctic Circle, with outside temperatures around minus 10 degrees, the AUV autonomously explored the frozen lake, which is up to 168 meters deep. The researchers were housed in a research station in Abisko for the duration of the field trials. Main goal was to prove the feasibility of the concept for autonomous under-ice navigation and docking. Once launched by the mobile crane, the hole in the ice allows only a brief glimpse of the three-meter-long system while it dives down and disappears completely under the ice shell conducting its exploration mission and navigating back to the docking station, where it can transmit the data it has collected and recharge its batteries. The field trials were a complete succes with the AUV and support equipment working nearly flawlessly and a total of 50 hours spent on missions under the ice. The main goal, demonstration of the feasibility of the docking and navigation procedure under realistic conditions could be achieved already on the first few days so there was ample time to collect scientific datasets and explore the lake.


EurEx-LUNa: Under Ice Navigation of AUV DeepLeng

In this short video we explain under ice navigation of the AUV Deep Leng.

EurEx-LUNa: Preparing a Mission to Jupiter's moon Europa. Under-Ice field test with the AUV DeepLeng

At the end of the third phase of the Europa Explorer project for long-range underwater navigation (EurEx-LUNa), DFKI researchers are now conducting the final field tests in the Abisko National Park in northern Sweden. There, they are testing the DeepLeng autonomous underwater vehicle in frozen Lake Torneträsk to prove the feasibility of the concept for autonomous under-ice navigation.

AUV DeepLeng: docking under Ice

AUV DeepLeng: starts a mission



Towards Robust Autonomous Underwater Docking for Long-Term Under-Ice Exploration
Tom Creutz, Bilal Wehbe, Sascha Arnold, Marc Hildebrandt
In Proceedings of Oceans 2023, (OCEANS-2023), 05.6.-08.6.2023, Limerick, IEEE, 2023.
AUV Trajectory Optimization with hydrodynamic forces for icy moon exploration
Lukas Rust, Bilal Wehbe, Shubham Vyas
In Proceedings of the 17th Symposium on Advanced Space Technologies in Robotics and Automation, (ASTRA-2023), 18.10.-20.10.2023, Leiden, -, Keplerlaan 1, 2201 AZ Noordwijk, Niederlande, 2023. European Space Agency.


Under-Ice Field tests with an AUV in Abisko/Torneträsk
Marc Hildebrandt, Tom Creutz, Bilal Wehbe, Marius Wirtz, Michael Zipper
In OCEANS 2022 - Hampton Roads, (OCEANS-2022), 17.10.-20.10.2022, Virginia Beach, Virginia, IEEE, 2022.
Spatial Acoustic Projection for 3D Imaging Sonar Reconstruction
Sascha Arnold, Bilal Wehbe
Editors: 2022 IEEE International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA)
In 2022 International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), (ICRA-2022), IEEE, 2022.


Deep Reinforcement Learning for Continuous Docking Control of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles: A Benchmarking Study
Mihir Patil, Bilal Wehbe, Matias Valdenegro-Toro
In Global OCEANS 2021, (OCEANS-2021), 20.9.-23.9.2021, San Diego, CA, IEEE, Sep/2021. IEEE.
Online Model Adaptation of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles with LSTM Networks
Miguel Bande Firvida, Bilal Wehbe
Editors: Miguel Bande Firvida, Bilal Wehbe
In Online Model Adaptation of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles with LSTM Networks, (OCEANS-2021), 20.9.-12.9.2021, Porto, IEEE, pages 1-6, 2021. IEEE. ISBN: 978-0-692-93559-0.


From epi-to bathypelagic: Transformation of a compact auv system for long-term deployments
Marc Hildebrandt, Sascha Arnold, Philipp Kloss, Bilal Wehbe, Michael Zipper
In 2020 IEEE/OES Autonomous Underwater Vehicles Symposium (AUV), (AUV-2020), Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, NL, IEEE, pages 1-6, 2020. IEEE.

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last updated 04.01.2024