Autonomous docking for exploration of extraterrestrial lakes

Document Type

Conference Proceeding

Publication Date



Department of Mechanical Engineering-Engineering Mechanics


The exploration of extraterrestrial lakes and oceans is recent a topic of interest aided by the improvements to autonomous underwater vehicle and rocket technology. Several methods have been proposed, this paper proposes usage of large and small autonomous underwater vehicles (AUVs) in coordination to maximize exploration efficiency. The use of a large submarine presents unique opportunities for a large science payload capable of meteorology, geoscience, and fluid sampling as well as extended endurance. The large platform size limits exploration of hazardous littoral regions due to mobility and risk concerns. To that end, multiple small AUVs can be launched, recovered, and charged by the larger submarine. These small scale crafts can explore at higher speeds and map the region around the large submarine for points-of-interest and hazards that the large submarine can then transit to or avoid. Critical to the functionality of the small scale is the docking solution to enable coupling between vehicles and power transfer. This paper presents the docking concept, dynamic modeling and control, simulation results, and preliminary experimental results for the proposed docking system. The proposed system is a small, collapsible design that is integrated within the large submarine and fits within the launch vehicle requirements. The working vehicles and stations are deployed upon splashdown from the stored configuration.

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© 2019 AIAA. Publisher’s version of record:

Publication Title

AIAA Scitech 2019 Forum