A Hansel & Gretel breadcrumb-style dynamically deployed communication network paradigm using mesh topology for planetary subsurface exploration

Wolfgang Fink, Connor Fuhrman, Andres Nuncio Zuniga, Mark Tarbell

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Scopus citations


We introduce a dynamically deployed communication network (DDCN) paradigm using mesh topology in support of a distributed robotic multi-agent approach for the autonomous exploration of subsurface environments, i.e., caves, lava tube caves, lakes, and oceans, etc. The DDCN, comprising wireless communication beacons autonomously deployed via a rover or submersible in a Hansel & Gretel-inspired breadcrumb style, allows for the longest and most robust communication link between subterranean robotic agent(s) within, e.g., a lave tube cave or a subsurface ocean, and associated surface-borne robotic agent(s). Moreover, we briefly touch on the development of a robotic testbed and wired/wireless communication beacons in support of such astrobiological surface/subsurface exploration scenarios. Candidate lava tube caves have been identified on the Moon and Mars, raising possibilities for planetary exploration, astrobiology, habitat construction for future astronauts, and potential mining operations. Subterranean caverns, and in particular relatively deep lava tube caves, provide a possible refuge for life under otherwise challenging planetary surface conditions, and, as such, are of prime astrobiological relevance. Lava tube caves or other subsurface environments may also be suitable habitats for astronauts and subsequent human settlement but are yet to be explored in part due to difficulties ensuring continued communication with a robotic probe inside these environments. Moreover, the existence of subsurface oceans on ocean worlds, such as Europa, Enceladus, and Titan, has been backed by varying levels of evidence since the 1980s, though there has been no confirmation, i.e., direct observation, thus far. Such environments are also shielded from radiation, and, in combination with the hypothesized presence of water, are additional candidate environments for finding extant or fossilized life. The DDCN paradigm introduced herein directly addresses NASA's Space Technology Grand Challenges – “All Access Mobility” by enabling the most unconstrained exploration of subsurface environments through a dynamic communication network which ensures transmission of data from and possibly commands to the subsurface robotic probe.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)518-528
Number of pages11
JournalAdvances in Space Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Jul 15 2023
Externally publishedYes


  • Dynamically deployed communication network
  • Mesh topology
  • Mining operations
  • Robotic multi-agent subsurface exploration
  • Robotic testbed
  • Subsurface environments incl. caves/lava tube caves and ocean worlds, etc.

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Aerospace Engineering
  • Astronomy and Astrophysics
  • Geophysics
  • Atmospheric Science
  • Space and Planetary Science
  • General Earth and Planetary Sciences

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