The project Europa-Explorer is a pilot survey for future missions to Jupiter's moon Europa. It focuses on the aspect of navigation of robotic systems on and especially under the ice-shield of Europa. Below the surface an ocean comprised of liquid water is expected. After penetration of the ice-shield an exploration can be conducted. A possible mission scenario is drafted, which covers all aspects of an exploration from the time of landing until the transmission of the survey results. In order to demonstrate the feasibility of this scenario, an experimental test platform will be constructed, which is able to be used in an analog mission at a suitable test site on earth. The results of this research can be used for planning purposes of real missions to Europa.

Duration: 01.12.2012 till 30.04.2016
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 project is funded by the German Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action (BMWI), Grant No. 50 NA 1217).
Application Field: Underwater Robotics
Space Robotics
Related Projects: CUSLAM
Localization and mapping in confined underwater environments (09.2009- 07.2012)
Related Robots: DeepLeng
Exploration-AUV for Long-Term Missions
A miniaturized autonomous underwater vehicle
Subsea-resident AUV
Teredo IceShuttle
Through-Ice-Cap Transfer-Vehicle & Base Station
Exploration AUV for long-distance-missions
Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Climate Action
German Aerospace Center e.V.

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. (Source: DFKI GmbH)
AUV Leng above the surface of the basin of the Maritime Exploration Hall of the DFKI. (Photo: Bilal Wehbe, DFKI GmbH)
AUV Leng starting a dive in the saltwater basing of the Maritime Exploration Hall of the DFKI. (Photo: Annemarie Hirth, DFKI GmbH)
The IceShuttle Teredo in full size. (Photo: Jan Albiez, DFKI GmbH)

The project Europa-Explorer is a pilot survey for future missions to Jupiter's moon Europa. It focuses on the aspect of navigation of robotic systems on and especially under Europa's surface. Below Europa's ice shield (thickness between 3 and 15 kilometers) an ocean comprised of liquid water is expected. For the exploration of this ocean a fully-autonomous system is necessary due to the long run-time of communication from earth to Europa (33-53 minutes). After landing on Europa the system should execute the following tasks:

  • Penetration of the ice shield
  • Ejection of an exploration-AUV
  • AUV sinks to ocean floor
  • Autonomous exploration of the ocean floor and acquisition of measurement data
  • Return to the point of entry
  • Docking with the ice drill
  • Return to the surface

The project Europa-Explorer will create a feasibility study for such a mission in a terrestrial scenario. Its main aspects are navigation under ice and integration of a functional complete exploration system out of the necessary components. A potential real mission is to be drafted together with the Max-Planck-Insitute for Solar System Research. In a two step process first the expected environmental conditions on Europa will be researched, which are the basis for validation experiments in terrestrial environments. In the second step the realizability of the drafted mission with respect to the usability of the build exploration system will be revised in detail. During the second step a possible concept for a full mission (including transit to Europa and landing) will be sketched

For the evaluation of the developments of this project an exploration-AUV and an ice-drill including a payload-section will be integrated as experiment platforms. The necessity for development of a new system lie in the high order of specialization of the two components: autonomous ice-drilling is a new area of research, especially with an integrated system including a payload system which is not available off the shelf. Regarding the AUV the problem is the specific necessity of a vehicle with small diameter (it needs to fit into the payload section of the ice-drill) with highly-specialized sensors for the exploration under ice - which in this combination are not available on the market, since typically under-ice-exploration AUVs are significantly bigger.

For experimental verification a compact system with all necessary sensors will be developed, which should be less than 20 cm in diameter. Diameters below this mark are preferable, but a compromise between necessary energy demand for ice-drilling and miniaturization of sensors is to be found during the project. AUV and ice-drill will have to be designed along-side in order to make the AUV fit the payload-section of the ice-drill. A special feature of the exploration AUV will be its hybrid propulsion system: besides the main propeller, it will comprise of a variable buoyancy cell (similar to an underwater glider system). This allows changes to overall buoyancy, enabling the AUV to traverse large vertical distances without continuous energy demands. This step is taken as preparation for a real mission to Europa, where an ocean of 100 km depth is expected to exist - much too deep for conventional, actively diving AUVs. The only possibility to provide enough energy to an AUV is to incorporate a RTG into its power system - due to risk of contamination this is deemed impossible for a real mission. Until completion of the exploration AUV the Dagon vehicle, built during the CUSLAM-project will be used as experimentation vehicle (see figure 1). A possible mission scenario including the interaction of ice-drill and AUV is depicted in figure 2.

The EurEx project is funded by the German Ministry of Economics (BMWI), Grant No. 50 NA 1217).


Europa-Explorer: Mission scenario

Animation of a possible mission on Jupiter’s moon Europa

Europa Explorer: LENG AUV undergoes an autonomous test mission

In this video, the Leng AUV undergoes an autonomous test mission in the saltwater basin of the DFKI Robotics Innovation Center. This mission is analogous to a potential mission in the ice-covered ocean of Jupiter's moon Europa. The vehicle undocks from the IceShuttle and then searches for gliders which act as acoustic navigation aids in a future mission. Following this, the AUV descends by modifying its buoyancy and gliding. Then, the vehicle searches the bottom for a black smoker. Finally, following an ascent (not shown), the vehicle docks again at the IceShuttle to transfer data. The robot-view images seen throughout the video is from data transferred at the end of the mission.



Miniaturized Underwater Gliders as Payload Transfer Units
Tobias Rossol, Marc Hildebrandt, Marius Wirtz
In Proceedings of the AUV 2018 MTS/OES Porto, (AUV-2018), 06.11.-09.11.2018, Porto, IEEE, Nov/2018. IEEE/OES.
Learning of Multi-Context Models for Autonomous Underwater Vehicles
Bilal Wehbe, Luis Octavio Arriaga Camargo, Mario Michael Krell, Frank Kirchner
In Proceedings of the AUV 2018 IEEE/OES Porto, (AUV-2018), 6.11.-9.11.2018, Porto, IEEE, Nov/2018. IEEE/OES.


Online Model Identification for Underwater Vehicles through Incremental Support Vector Regression
Bilal Wehbe, Alexander Fabisch, Mario Michael Krell
In IEEE/RSJ, (IROS-17), 24.9.-28.9.2017, Vancouver, British Columbia, IEEE, pages 4173-4180, Sep/2017. IEEE/RSJ. ISBN: 9781538626818.
Combining Cameras, Magnetometers and Machine-Learning into a Close-Range Localization System for Docking and Homing
Marc Hildebrandt, Leif Christensen, Frank Kirchner
In MTS/IEEE Oceans 2017 Anchorage, (OCEANS-2017), 18.9.-21.9.2017, Anchorage, Alaska, IEEE, Sep/2017.
Learning Coupled Dynamic Models of Underwater Vehicles using Support Vector Regression
Bilal Wehbe, Mario Michael Krell
In Proceeding of Oceans '17 MTS/IEEE Aberdeen, (OCEANS-17), 19.6.-22.6.2017, Aberdeen, IEEE, Jun/2017. MTS/IEEE. ISBN: 9781509052783.
Experimental Evaluation of Various Machine Learning Regression Methods for Model Identification of Autonomous Underwater Vehicles
Bilal Wehbe, Marc Hidebrandt, Frank Kirchner
In Proceedings of 2017 International Conference on Robotics and Automation (ICRA), (ICRA-17), 29.5.-3.6.2017, Sands Expo and Convention Centre, IEEE, pages 4885-4890, May/2017. IEEE Robotics and Automation Society. ISBN: 9781509046324.


Cutting the Umbilical: New Technological Perspectives in Benthic Deep-Sea Research
Angelika Brandt, Julian Gutt, Marc Hildebrandt, Jan Pawlowski, Jakob Schwendner, Thomas Soltwedel, Laurenz Thomsen
In Journal of Marine Science and Engineering, MDPI, volume 4, number 2, pages 1-27, May/2016.
IceShuttle Teredo: An Ice-Penetrating Robotic System to Transport an Exploration AUV into the Ocean of Jupiter's MoonEuropa
Marius Wirtz, Marc Hildebrandt
In Proceedings of the 67th International Astronautical Congress, (IAC-2016), 26.9.-30.9.2016, Guadalajara, Jalisco, o.A., 2016.
Europa Explorer - A mission concept to explore the ocean world of a Jovian ice moon.
Marius Wirtz
In Master Conference 2016 - New Frontiers Ocean & Space - Marine Mining and Sustainability - Current Research and Future Challenges in Space, 08.2.-09.2.2016, Bremen, n.n., GEO building Universität Bremen, 2016. Master of Geosciences and Marine Geosciences.


Teredo IceShuttle - Bringing together under-ice deployment, sensor platform, docking, launch and recovery in a small diameter vehicle design
Marius Wirtz
series DFKI Documents, volume 15-02, pages 2, Jun/2015. DFKI GmbH.


A Validation Process for Underwater Localization Algorithms
Marc Hildebrandt, Christopher Gaudig, Leif Christensen, Sankaranarayanan Natarajan, Javier Hidalgo Carrió, Patrick Merz Paranhos, Frank Kirchner
In International Journal of Advanced Robotic Systems, Intech, volume 11, pages 1-10, Sep/2014.
Europa Explorer: Development of a Hydrodynamic Casing for the Autonomous Underwater Vehicle
Philipp Kloss
In Proceedings of the RIC Project Day Workgroups Locomotion&Simulation, 17.9.-17.9.2014, Bremen, Selbstverlag, series DFKI Documents, volume 14_06, number 1406, 2014. Robotivs Innovation Center Bremen. DFKI GmbH.
Navigation in Extreme Environments - Exploration of Jupiter's Moon Europa with Autonomous Underwater Vehicles
Marc Hildebrandt, Marius Wirtz
In Luft- und Raumfahrt - Antrieb zu neuen Horizonten, (DLRK-2014), 16.9.-18.9.2014, Augsburg, DGLR, 2014.
Towards an Astrobiological Vision for the Outer Solar System: The Europa and Enceladus Explorer Mission Designs
K. Konstantinidis, C.L. Flores Martinez, Marc Hildebrandt, R. Förstner
In Workshop on the Habitability of Icy Worlds, 5.1.-7.2.2014, Pasadena, CA, NA, 2014.


Development, Evaluation and Validation of a Stereo Camera Underwater SLAM Algorithm
Marc Hildebrandt
Dec/2013. Universität Bremen.
Design of an Autonomous Under-Ice Exploration System
Marc Hildebrandt, Jan Albiez, Marius Wirtz, Philipp Kloss, Jens Hilljegerdes, Frank Kirchner
In MTS/IEEE Oceans 2013 San Diego, (OCEANS-2013), 23.9.2013, San Diego, CA, IEEE, pages 1-6, Sep/2013.

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