Oceanids Programme newsletter - September 2020

OCEANIDS header_new

September 2020

Welcome to latest Oceanids newsletter, which provides a round-up of news from the programme and updates on recent progress and developments.


Autosub 2000 Under Ice

After the under ice submarine Autosub 3 was officially retired in 2017 the National Marine Equipment Pool was left with just one ship-deployed, high-power imaging submarine, Autosub6000

Autoub6000 specializes in deep water imaging operations including sidescan, multibeam and camera surveys; it has however been in service for 12 years and although revolutionary for its time the vehicle will shortly come to the end of its serviceable life. When we set about starting the Oceanids Autosub2000 Under Ice (A2KUI) project we were keenly aware that what we had to design was not a single submarine but a submarine architecture, which can be used for multiple vehicles. 

We currently have three submarines in the pipeline which will use the architecture we have created under the A2KUI project.

A2KUI CAD image 2020

Autosub2000 Under Ice (A2KUI)

The main focus of the current project is to deliver a 2000m depth-rated submarine capable of multi-day under ice operations equipped with a default scientific payload of upwards and downwards facing multibeams and Acoustic Doppler Current Profilers (ADCP), side scan sonar, sub-bottom profiler and Seabird 9+. 

Autosub6000 Mk2 

The replacement submarine for the existing Autosub6000 will be a 6000m rated vehicle of almost identical design to A2KUI, but fitted with the required 6000m rated syntactic foam and a different suite of default sensors including EM2040 multibeam, sidescan sonar, sub-bottom profiler, downward facing and forward facing camera systems, Seabird 9+ and down facing ADCP.

Autosub Hover One

The NOC's first foray into hover-capable vehicles, this small inspection-class vehicle will become our engineering development platform for future research and development activity. 

Vehicle architecture

The submarine architecture was developed with two major design considerations: 

  • Reliability – Sending a submarine under an ice cap for multiple day missions is still a major technical challenge. The lack of remote communications, the stand-alone navigation and the difficulty in detecting and then avoiding obstacles still make these under ice missions hugely challenging.
  • Flexibility – The key reason for building our own submarines rather than procuring off-the-shelf vehicles is so we can modify them to accommodate the latest sensors. An example being the latest Oceanids Biocam deployment where a large proportion of the submarine was reconfigured to fit the sensor package.

We decided upon an architecture designed around a dual redundant system, which means that if any one system in the submarine were to fail there would be a back-up to get the vehicle home. The central piece of this architecture is the payload tube (pictured below).

A2KUI payload tube

One of the first submarine payload tubes undergoing temperature cycling in our oven. All testing is being done between -40°C and 70° to ensure it continues to operate in all conditions. 

Onboard Autosub2KUI there are two payload tubes - one forward and one to the rear which connect every vehicle sensor. The 14 new PCB’s required for this system have all arrived and are undergoing rigorous testing of temperature and load. These payload tubes are designed to handle more power and communications than we have ever needed before, with a total of 1.2kW available (400W x 12v, 400W x24V, 400W x 48V) per tube.


For the battery power, we have completely re-designed our re-chargeable pressure tolerant batteries. Autosub6000 currently supports 22.86 kWHrs whereas the new submarines will have 50kWhrs of onboard capacity. The first batch of 40 battery modules equalling 50kWhrs of capacity is now being manufactured to this new NOC design. The 50kWhrs will give an initial science range of 300-400km with the ability to increase this as we make power efficiency savings in the future. 

A2KUI battery module

One of the first battery modules received for testing on the vibration jig. Once complete the submarine will contain 40 of these modules. 

Vehicle Mechanics 

As most are aware, getting equipment in the water is far easier than retrieving it, and our submarines are no exception. There are two main types of submarine launch recovery system (LARS). The most common is the sled type where a sled is lowered down from the stern of a ship and the submarine is pulled up the sled. It is a more generic system and allows the submarine to not experience such high lifting forces, allowing less of the overall submarine weight to be dedicated to structure. The downside is in a higher sea state you are trying to mate your submarine with a solid sled off the back of the ship and thus damage to the vehicle or the inability to recover it in rough seas is more common.

Marine Autonomous Systems deployment - Autosub6000

Autosub6000 in the NOC LARS after a deployment

The Autosub LARS uses the less common system which is closer in design to a regular crane with dual lifting cables. This system allows operators to remove the submarine from the water before mating it with the ship.

The downside is you require a much stronger - and therefore heavier - submarine structure to withstand all the forces involved. We have previously used this system to recover Autosub6000 in sea states as high as 6. The mechanical design team have been hard at work designing the new submarine structure, which is now complete, and currently in manufacture with the core pieces being made from titanium.  

A2KUI stress heat map

One of many stress analyses completed by the mechanical design team, ensuring the structure can withstand all the loads of a recovery. At the top of the image you can see one of the two 'donuts' used to lift the submarine. The bottom of the image is the centre section where the batteries will be stored. 

Next steps

Due to the impact of COVID-19 all on-site work on the hardware had to stop for three months. However, the team has now been back in the workshop for over a month and are progressing with the assembly. All of the main electrical systems, including the navigation, will shortly be connected to enable full systems testing to begin. Initial in-water trials had originally been planned for before the end of the year. These have been pushed back to March 2021, with two more trial dates scheduled for June and a sea trial later in 2021. 

About Oceanids

ALR1500 in the workshop

Oceanids is a £16 million Marine Autonomous Systems (MAS) development programme funded by the UK Government’s Industrial Strategy Challenge Fund and being delivered and led by the National Oceanography Centre (NOC) in partnership with the Scottish Association for Marine Science, University of Exeter, University of Southampton, Plymouth Marine Laboratories, and industry partners, which aims to reinforce the UK’s position as a global leader in marine science and technology.

The programme draws upon engineering and science expertise from across a wide range of UK academic, industry and government organisations. The primary aim is to develop enhanced data collection and delivery capability for the UK marine science community, particularly in unexplored and technologically challenging under-ice and deep-ocean environments.

Further details on the programme can be found at:



ALR1500 to embark on Long Distance Proving Trial

ALR1500 in Portland Harbour

The NOC will be deploying one of the Oceanids-developed Autosub Long Range (ALR) robot submarines on a challenging 2000km trial mission scheduled to run for 35 days, launching from a shore facility in Plymouth in early October.

The primary focus of this deployment is to demonstrate the engineering capability of the ALR1500 platform, and to act as as a proving ground for future long-duration scientific and commercial applications.

The objectives are:

• To successfully operate and navigate a sufficient distance comparable to that that would be covered in a science or commercial deployment. 

• To demonstrate mission types and behaviours as one would expect from a science or commercial deployment, for example sawtooth profiling through the water column, lawn mower patterns etc.

• To demonstrate operation at maximum working depth, repeatedly with no faults.

• To demonstrate that all support procedures and methods (in terms of remote piloting) are robust and appropriate for safe operation of the platform.


Update to NOC simulator

MARS LDTP simulator

The MARS (Marine Autonomous and Robotics Systems) software team at the NOC has updated its simulator to help prepare for advanced autonomous missions, such as the forthcoming Long Distance Proving Trial (above).

The simulator can create virtual underwater vehicles within virtual environments and is used as a testing tool prior to deployments to ensure that mission parameters are correctly defined, the vehicle is configured as it should be, and the onboard control system (OCS) is up-to-date and fully functional.


• Generate a virtual environment (e.g. the Celtic Sea) from bathymetric surveys by displaying a mesh representing the seabed. The simulator can also generate a water bounding box to make the environment more realistic.

• Model vehicles (e.g. ALR1500) from its dynamic parameters to its mechanical aspects. The vehicle can be 'spawned' inside the virtual environment for a realistic rendering.

• Mock sensors and actuators using Gazebo/ROS plugins (e.g. GPS plugin to generate GPS data from the virtual environment).

• Communicate with the C2 (Command and Control) to receive mission instructions (in the form of an Iridium Satellite short-burst data message) and to update the current status of the virtual vehicle.

• Reproduce a 'real' mission inside a virtual environment. The virtual vehicle can be observed while performing its tasks, and the standard OCS warnings are triggered whenever an issue is detected.


NMF Technology Road Map 2020-21 published

NMF Technology Road Map 2020-21

Earlier in the summer saw the launch of the National Marine Facilities Technology Roadmap 2020-21, which outlines the current capabilities of the fleet, and looks to the future of marine science and the technology that will take us there.

Head to https://bit.ly/NMF_TRM to view or download a copy.


NOC launches new online course

MOOC square promo

Registration is now open for the NOC's new free online course - 'Ocean Science in Action: Addressing Marine Ecosystems and Food Security in the Western Indian Ocean.'

The course starts on 5 October, runs for four weeks and draws upon the SOLSTICE Project to introduce learners to innovative marine technologies and their applications, and how they are used to tackle the challenges around the sustainable management of marine ecosystems. 

With over 30 videos featuring fieldwork in the Western Indian Ocean region, this course will provide a view of how marine science and technology can be applied to the sustainable management of local marine ecosystems, and how this may contribute global efforts to meet the UN Sustainable Development Goals. 

Register via Future Learn at https://bit.ly/3brq2Xq



Dr Maaten Furlong (Head, NMF-MARS)

Dr Alex Phillips (Head, NMF-MARS Development)

Dr Kristian Thaller (Oceanids Programme Manager)

Damian Cook (Oceanids Senior Communications Officer)