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 project will transform the technological and operational arsenal available for future Ocean World exploration. More immediately, it will broaden the scientific knowledge and techniques available to ocean sciences today through transformative innovations in both technology and science operations. First, we will integrate a science payload into a cost-effective underwater platform. Second, we will advance adaptive multi-sensor data product acquisition with real-time integrated data management and extraction of scientific information. InVADER features the first long-term-resident, real-time, combined imaging and spectroscopy payload for underwater sensing. Thus, InVADER will pave the way for future autonomous ocean/vent exploration efforts, with applications to ocean sciences and future targeted exploration of Ocean Worlds, and advance planetary vent exploration through synergistic technology and science operations demonstrations and the optimization of InVADER’s instruments.
Our investigation will include in-situ observation, real-time data gathering and interpretation, and sample collection, analysis, and return. The specific goals of InVADER include:
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 laser Raman, laser-induced breakdown spectroscopy (LIBS), and laser-induced native fluorescence (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. 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.