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Planetary Science and Technology Through Analog Research

In-situ Vent Analysis Divebot for Exobiology Research (InVADER)

Active Technology Project

Project Introduction

In-situ Vent Analysis Divebot for Exobiology Research (InVADER)
InVADER will study underwater hydrothermal systems at Axial Seamount, the largest and most active volcano on western boundary of the Juan de Fuca tectonic plate off the coast of Oregon. The vents at the Axial Seamount generate chemical energy which can sustain life, and are high-fidelity analogues to putative vent systems on Ocean Worlds. Our investigation will include in-situ observation, real-time data gathering and interpretation, and sample collection, analysis, and return. To support these efforts, we propose a research program with three main goals. Goal 1 - Science: Characterize the geochemistry, geobiology, and metabolic activity in Axial Seamount as an analog for planetary exploration. We will identify active microbial metabolisms in hydrothermal environments through in-situ and laboratory analyses of returned samples. In parallel, we will characterize the mineralogy, hydrothermal fluid characteristics, and geological context of vent systems. Goal 2 - Science Operations: Validate science operations strategies, adaptive science data processing, and instrument control. We will: perform laboratory LRS/LIBS/LINF measurements of hydrothermal fluid and mineral samples; test science operations and science planning strategies in the field; develop data fusion strategies for the synergistic visualization and exploitation of science data; and develop, test, and validate new exploration strategies based on in-situ laser sensing and sample coring. Goal 3 - Technology: Demonstrate InVADER's astrobiology technology. We will: performance-test InVADER with natural samples (both fluid and precipitates) from hydrothermal vent sites; deploy InVADER and perform in-situ analyses in Axial Seamount; develop routines for recording imaging and spectroscopic data, first level science data processing, and sample caching, analysis, and return. To implement these Goals, we will integrate and deploy an astrobiology payload that features a combination of rapid, in-situ, standoff analyses and sample coring instruments: stereo optical imaging; laser Raman spectroscopy, laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy, and laser-induced native fluorescence (LRS/LIBS/LINF); and a coring tool. Both the imaging and coring systems have been successfully tested underwater. The spectroscopy suite is a replica of an existing TRL 4 system for planetary exploration. We will install the payload into the OOI Cabled Array, a chain of power/data distribution nodes connected by subsea telecom cable. InVADER will integrate a payload containing 3D visual mapping and LRS/LIBS/LINF technologies into a divebot. This payload will enable standoff determinations of: a) relevant disequilibria in vent systems, b) composition and mineralogy of hydrothermal chimneys and associated precipitates, c) relevant small-scale features that are indicators of vent geochemistry and/or habitability, and d) the presence and distribution of organics. Thus, the project is relevant to PSTAR's overarching objectives and addresses multiple areas of Science, Technology, and Science Operations fidelity. While these vent characteristics can be analyzed using existing technologies, such analyses cannot, at present, be conducted simultaneously, in an autonomous, non-destructive rapid way. InVADER aims to fill these gaps, and advance readiness in vent exploration on Earth and ocean worlds by simplifying operational strategies for identifying and characterizing seafloor vents. We will integrate and apply a novel technology package for the search for signatures of life in extreme underwater environments, thereby addressing the call for "development and application of technologies that support science investigations ... and identification of life and life-related chemistry in extreme environments." Our team brings expertise in geochemistry, mineralogy, and astrobiology of hydrothermal systems, as well as ocean engineering, spectroscopy, robotics, science operations, and analog research. More »

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