OpenROVs for Education, Exploration, and a SJSU Analogue Mission to Europa



Our collective human desire to explore and expand draws us into developing engineering solutions to the difficult problems of space travel, exploration and colonization. In order to succeed at such grand endeavors, we need the support equipment to aid us in discovery; determining the environments and analyzing hazards to fulfill mission objectives. Our scientific investigation of our planetary neighbors not only draws us in this push outward, but has given us unprecedented ability to understand our own planetary processes. The development of planetary bodies, the evolution of planetary systems, and the habitability of foreign environments interest us in our search for knowledge of the cosmos.

One planetary body of great interest is the icy moon of Europa. Why? One reason, water.

Without posting a treaties on the need to explore a world covered in ice, encasing a secretive subsurface ocean, possibly teaming with alien life much like the vent communities that thrive in the deepest, darkest reaches of our own oceans; I outline a project that a group of San Jose State students have embarked.

Europa: It’s cold. It’s distant. It’s scientifically intoxicating. A quick Wikipedia read through, Europa, allows for a high level education on this icy moon of Jupiter. First, some preliminary facts.

Europa orbits Jupiter at a distance of 670,900 km; has a diameter of 3138 km, with a mass of 4.08e^22 kg. Named after the queen of Crete, courted by Zeus, Europa is the 6th largest moon in the solar system and one of the 4 Galilean moons along with Io, Ganymede, and Callisto.

Discovered in 1610 by Galileo Galilei, Europa has intrigued planetary astronomers for centuries, and after the 1979 encounters with Voyagers 1 and 2, Europa, covered in tectonically shifting ice, has garnered additional research initiatives via the Galileo spacecraft which visited the Jovian system in 1995 and studied Jupiter and its many moons until 2005.

Jupiter exerts tremendous tidal forces on Europa, causing inner heating and may sustain of what is believed to be a vast subsurface ocean. Missions like the Europa Clipper from JPL and robotic arctic/antarctic exploration platforms like the Stone Aerospace Endurance and the CalState SCINI, exist to test technologies in harsh environments.

Europa Clipper missionRobot deployment team engineers Bob Zook, Paul Mahecek, and Dustin Carroll, seen here holding the underwater robot that captured images of the ice anemones. Image credit: Dr. Frank R. Rack, ANDRILL Science Management Office, University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

Above, JPL Clipper, Stone Aerospace Endurance and CalState SCINI.

San Jose State University students have initiated a Europa analogue mission to test new designs for the exploration of Europa. Their ROV must fit in the 3u CubeSate launch package, be autonomously deployed, and be able to operate in complete darkness, at subzero temperatures.


Mission Statement

To simulate a mission to explore the oceans of Europa by designing, building, testing, and demonstrating the functions of a remotely operated vehicle in an ocean environment.


Goals and Objectives

  1. Build an underwater remotely operated vehicle.
    1. Design, build, and test a propulsion system capable of moving up/down, left/right, forwards/backwards, and yaw left/yaw right.
    2. Design, build, and test a control system capable of moving up/down, left/right, forwards/backwards, and yaw left/yaw right.
    3. Design, build, and test a structure capable of deep ocean exploring.
  2. Collect “science” data during the demonstration.
    1. Incorporate “science” instrumentation into the design of the underwater ROV. Science includes temperature, orientation, sonar, salinity, and video.
    2. Design, build, and test a program that sends the “science” data back to the user.
  3. Publish, demonstrate, and present our process through formal and informal mediums. Formal includes publishing a paper for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics and presenting the paper at an appropriate conference. This project will also be presented at the International Planetary Probe Workshop 2014 located at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory at the California Institute of Technology. Informal mediums include demonstrating the capabilities of the remotely operated vehicle at the Maker Faire Bay Area 2014.


Mission Success Criteria

The following is a list of outcomes expected to be achieved and its associated level of success.


Academic Success

Minimum – Demonstrate the underwater remotely operated vehicle at Maker Faire Bay Area 2014. Nominal – A paper and presentation will be written for International Planetary Probe Workshop 2014 regarding the entire process of the project.

Comprehensive – A paper and presentation will be written for the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics regarding the entire process of the project.


Engineering Success

Minimum – An underwater remotely operated vehicle is built and tested to operate in an ocean environment.

Nominal – The underwater remotely operated vehicle is able to operate for 20 minutes in the ocean at a depth of 500 meters.

Comprehensive – The underwater remotely operated vehicle is able to operate for 20 minutes in the ocean at a depth of 500 meters in temperatures between -20 to -40 degrees.


Structure design – a “SCINI” like CubeSat sized ROV.

Abhra explaining the structure progress to Andrew and Jeff background at The Tech Museum2

3D Printed Propulsion Module:

A dramatic 3D printed propulsion module printed at The Tech Museum2

Preparation at the Tech Museum for the OpenROV build.

Andrew working on the openROV controller board at The Tech Museum2

Satish Chetty, mentor, demonstrating the BeageBoneBlack.

Satish demonstrating the use of the Beagle Bone Black to (Left to Right) Matt EJ and Abhra at the SJSU Campus2

Solder test at Robot Garden.

Karl getting some soldering practice at Robot Garden2


OpenROV #411:

With the above mission criteria, the Robot Garden ROV/AUV interest group was contacted in hopes that the enthusiast community may be able to shed light on the engineering requirements and mission considerations needed to bring the concepts to fruition. After some excellent conversation, the students requested that a prototype build would be needed to learn some of the mechanics to better understand design and construction of an ROV. And as luck would have it, the Robot Garden interest group had an OpenROV kit that needed built.

Root Gardens Full Spectrum 40w CO2 hobby laser. 12″x20″


The initial component cuts.


Homeplug module, top side adapter.

photo 1(2)

Heat gun and Acrylic shell. The polypropylene was just horrid to cut on the full spectrum laser. I also choose a clear acrylic shell.

photo 1(3)

Getting the electronics setup. ESCs and the OepnROV controller.

photo 2(3)

The controller and internal frame coming together.

photo 2(4)

Getting closer…photo 3(2)

The top side adapter and internal camera/light swing arm.

photo 5(1)

ran out of acrylic cement…Crazy glue to the rescue. Now, I need to note that the instructions were not followed precisely. I am potting with 5-minute 1500 psi epoxy.

photo 5(2)

A bonus, Nishkin Bottle. Water sampling based off of Eric’s hackathon design and MIT’s SeaPerch. Not the end caps…they suck. I am going to use rubber keg plugs instead.



The SJSU students found the build quit enlightening. Giving time constraints, they could not complete the full build, so I’ve picked up the reigns and got the kit 90% complete. However, what the students did learn is how difficult it is to coordinate project scope and technical requirements within time, material, and operations restrictions. I anticipate there “SCINI” like design and demonstration scheduled for the Maker Faire coming this May. I’ll keep you all posted on that! we will also be waiting on the paper that describes the entire project at the  International Planetary Probe Workshop 2014.

The OpenROV #411 has now been designated Robot Garden’s demo ROV and will live inside of a demo aquarium and allow external users, via the net, to log in and play with the kit in the test tank. I will have more info on that in the coming months.

The SJSU students would like to thank Marc Brutchy, Satish Chetty for design discussions, pressure considerations, and hardware/software education, Eric Statckpole, David Lang, for the tether, motor ESCs, and Robot Garden for tools, guidance and discussions.

Remember, make and make often. Make the world you want, not the one you were given.

– Jim N.


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