Wave Gliders have completed missions all around the world, but some areas present more challenges than others. Operating at high latitudes can be one of the biggest tests.
At high latitudes, the first thing we need to consider is the lack of sunlight. Without enough sunlight to fully recharge the batteries, we have to plan for the inevitable: eventually the Wave Glider will run out of power because it is always consuming more than it can replenish. Contrast that with operating in a place like Hawaii, where there is often enough sunlight to fully recharge the battery packs onboard the vehicle.
In addition to the expected sunlight, we also take into account weather and current conditions for the area where the Wave Glider will be operating. We have a wealth of historical data to pull from, including vehicle and sensor power requirements, weather forecasts, and current information from areas of operation all around the world. For example, operating in an area with heavy currents can mean that the rudder will need to be continuously moving to keep the vehicle on track—that can be a significant power draw that we’ll build into the plan.
We take all of this into account during mission planning, regardless of latitude—cloud cover, storms and extreme cold conditions can all impact solar intake and battery efficiency. If we can’t count on recharging the batteries, sometimes we work backwards: If we have X amount of power, and Y number of days before we can recover the vehicle and swap batteries, how should we operate the Wave Glider to achieve the customer objective? We’ll consider the sensors that need to be running, and how we can best manage their power draws with duty cycling. We’ll also balance power and maintenance requirements with data requirements; we wouldn’t want to run out of storage before we run out of power. All of this gets built into the final mission plan.
Fundamentally, the secret to operating at high latitudes is power management, and the secret to power management is mission planning. That, and having an experienced pilot at the helm.
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