ECE Researchers take Arctic Voyage

Marshall Molen and Herb Ginn

Marshall Molen and Herb Ginn recently completed a voyage aboard the USCGC Healy, the US Coast Guard's newest icebreaker, to the top of North America by way of the Northwest Passage. The trip took place August 19-30. It began in Thule, Greenland and ended in Barrow, Alaska.

This unusual voyage was the result of a joint effort between MSU and Northrop Grumman Ship Systems (NGSS) to conduct a power quality study of the ship's electrical distribution system. The Healy is of particular interest to the ECE researchers involved in electric ship research, a program funded by the Office of Naval Research, due to its integrated electric drive. It is the only military ship in the US fleet to possess a propulsion system of this type, a fact that makes it particularly suitable as a case study to support the ongoing research for the next generation of naval ships.


While aboard the Healy the MSU researchers acquired electrical data at multiple locations on the ship that will enable them to evaluate the power quality under various operating conditions. Operating parameters of the ship included numerous conditions such as a bollard in which the ship pushed against an immovable piece of ice with a significant thrust, a crash-reversal in which the ship is brought to a quick as possible stop by reversing its motors, and finally several controlledramps in speed. Real time waveform data was taken at several strategic locations using National Instruments hardware which was configured and programmed by the researchers for use on the ship. The figure below shows some of the hardware connected via cables to 16 sensors installed on the ship by NGSS.

The data acquisition equipment at various locations was interconnected via the ships fiber optic network and coordinated from a single location. There were also many interesting experiences in store for the MSU/NGSS team while they were not busy with their study of the Healy's systems. These experiences included breaking through a sea of ice several feet thick, sighting polar bears and seals, and passing by large drifting icebergs to name a few. The view of the spectacular scenery was maximized by the 24 hours of daylight that occurs during the arctic summer. Also, there was an unusual historic significance to the cruise. The trip into the Northwest Passage began on the evening of August 20 exactly 100 years to the day that Roald Amundsen, a Norweigan explorer also known for his Antarctic explorations, sailed into the passage in the first successful transit of the waterway in 1903.

Ellesmere Island

Polar Bears

Tracking of the Ship

Some Hardware by NGSS