Autonomous sub in centimetre search for flight MH370

The search for the missing Malaysian  airliner now involves an autonomous submarine from US-based firm Bluefin Robotics.

Bluefin-21 on deck of a surface vessel

Bluefin-21 on deck of a surface vessel

The miniature submarine, which is only five metres in length, is reported to have completed its first mission in a search for flight MH370’s black box flight recorder on the seabed in the Indian Ocean.

Bluefin-21, which was built by MIT spin-out Bluefin Robotics in Massachusetts,  has accurate sonar equipment which can scour the ocean bed centimetre by centimetre.

The miniature submarine is likely to be using a 455 kHz side scan sonar which provides 10cm resolution along track and a 7.5cm resolution across track out to 75m, and up to 150m with reduced resolution.

Self-contained inertial navigation plus compass for <0.5% error.

The technical details of the autonomous submarine are:

Diameter 53cm
Length 4.93m
Dry weight 750kg
Depth Rating 4.5km
Endurance 25hr at 3knots with standard payload
Max speed 4.5knots
Energy 13.5kWh Li-po, pressure-tolerant
Propulsion Steerable ducted thruster
Navigation Inertial ≤ 0.1%
Antenna GPS, RF, Iridium
Communications RF, Iridium, acoustic.
Ethernet via cable out of water
Self-protection Independently powered fault and leak detection,
drop-weight increases standard 7.3kg buoyancy,
acoustic transponder, light strobe, RDF and Iridium.
Software GUI-based operator tools
Data 4Gbyte flash drive for vehicle data
+ payload storage
Payload options EdgeTech 2200-M 120/410kHz side scan sonar
EdgeTech 230/850kHz dynamically focused
EdgeTech DW-216 sub-bottom profiler
Reson 7125 400kHz multi-beam echosounder

Bluefin-21 was being operated by the US Navy off the Australian vessel Ocean Shield.

Malaysia Airlines flight MH370 disappeared on 8 March as it flew from Kuala Lumpur to Beijing.



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