MSLED: Micro Subglacial Lake Exploration Device

MSLED practicing docking maneuvers at the University of Maryland's neutral buoyancy tank, November, 2012

The MSLED project runs out of the Extreme Environments Robotics and Instrumentation Lab at Arizona State University under the direction of Dr. Alberto Behar from the NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory. MSLED is working with WISSARD (Whillans Ice Stream Subglacial Access Research Drilling) and will be the first instrument to explore a subglacial lake outside of the borehole profile. MLSED is largely funded by the National Science Foundation with contributions from JPL and ASU. This project is largely operated by under graduate students designing and building micro submarines to explore the lakes that have been under the ice for hundreds of thousands of years.

Project Overview

This project is to develop, test and deploy a miniaturized remotely operated submersible for investigating subglacial lakes and other remote and hazardous aquatic environments. The Micro-Submersible Lake Exploration Device (MSLED) will expand the range of accessible environments by integrating a variety of hydrological and vision sensors into a compact and modular robotic platform. The MSLED is designed to minimally disturb the environment during in-situ measurements, and will be equipped with appropriate in-situ chemical sensors and a high resolution imaging system to determine the geological, hydrological and chemical characteristics of its surroundings. 

The MSLED will accomplish the following objectives:

  1. Measure horizontal and vertical chemical, temperature and pressure gradients to determine sources and sinks of subglacial water, and describe biological habitability;
  2. Provide the first visual characterization of the nature of such sites and the novel ecosystems they might host;
  3. Acquire images and basic hydrographical and compositional data to aid in understanding ice sheet interactions with water. 

MSLED’s mission deployment will be in the Whillans Ice Stream located in the West Antarctic Ice Sheet. This field campaign will be conducted in collaboration with the WISSARD project during this Austral summer – January 2013. 

Within the last three years, this project went from paper designs and proposals to a physical device ready to explore worlds under the ice. It was largely designed by a team of undergraduate engineers at Arizona State University under the supervision of Dr. Alberto Behar. This project provides opportunities to discover the unexplored waters on Earth and sets the stage for exploration missions to Europa.