The increasing demand for detailed bathymetry data of target seafloor areas, e.g. for the efficient use of ROVs, the detection of hydrothermal vent activities at the sea floor or pre-site surveys at cold seep systems resulting in the need to purchase an autonomous underwater vehicle (AUV) for the Research Center Ocean Margins. The chosen vehicle - resulting from a competition of AUV vendors - based on the established design of the EXPLORER Marine Science AUV from the Canadian Company International Submarine Engineering (ISE). This specific AUV already was developed for IFREMER and University Southern Mississippi as 3000 m vehicle; for RCOM purposes it needs to be lengthened and enhanced in diameter to meet the specified depth range of 5000 m water depth.
The designed EXPLORER 5000 AUV weights 1250 kg, has a length of 5.5 m and a diameter of 0.74 m. The large pressure chamber is the main buoyancy element of the AUV and easily can accommodate 19” rack components, mostly based on reliable industry standards. Upcoming hardware integrations as part of the scientific missions at RCOM are feasible without proprietary electronic circuit’s boards. In combination with the Software Development Kit (ACE) the RCOM scientists do have the ability to fully interact with the vehicle software, undertake complex payload integration, alter vehicle behaviour and change the Graphical User interface. All the options are necessary to have a long term perspective in the use of the EXPLORER AUV as modular sensor platform in a developing scientific environment.
The basic attitude sensor suit of the EXPLORER 5000 consists of a high accurate iXSea PHINS inertial navigation unit in combination with a 300 kHz RDI DVL, supported by a POSIDONIA USBL capability and a Paroscientific depth sensor; for underwater communication a long range acoustic modem Sercel Orca MATS 200 is installed. The main scientific payload is based on a Seabird FastCat SBE 49 CTD and the high-quality RESON SeaBat 7125 multi-beam echo-sounding system (MBES) with 400 kHz frequency. Optional a BENTHOS SIS 1624 Sidescan-Sonar (100 + 390 kHz) and a IXSea Echoes 5000 Sub-Bottom-Profiler is available.
Considering these sensors in operation, the EXPLORER 5000 AUV has an endurance of nearly 19 hours and 100 km range @ 3 knots based on the approximately 15,3 kWh .
On European scale it is intended to cooperate with the IFREMER to benefit from already existing expertise in operating the EXPLORER class AUVs and to share payload and software developments.