From the top of the wing to the bottom of the keel, saildrones are loaded with science sensors.

World First: Saildrone Circumnavigates Antarctica

Shailaja A. Lakshmi

A seven-meter (23-foot) long, wind-powered unmanned surface vehicle (USV) called a saildrone has become the first unmanned system to circumnavigate Antarctica.

The vehicle, known as SD 1020, was equipped with a suite of climate-grade sensors and collected data in previously unchartered waters, enabling new key insights into ocean and climate processes.

The 196-day mission was launched from Southport in Bluff, New Zealand, on January 19, 2019, returning to the same port on August 3 after sailing over 22,000 km (13,670 miles) around Antarctica. During the mission, the vehicle survived freezing temperatures, 15-meter (50-foot) waves, 130 km/h (80 mph) winds, and collisions with giant icebergs.

This mission was sponsored by the non-profit Li Ka Shing Foundation and all data made publicly available at no cost in order to accelerate our understanding of critical processes affecting humanity.

The mission is also an educational outreach initiative, aiming to expose future generations to the rapid changes taking place in the Antarctic. Saildrone and the 1851 Trust partnered to develop a series of STEM lesson plans rooted in science, technology, engineering, and math.

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