The Aurora Borealis will be the first arctic ship that functions as both an icebreaker and a drilling platform. This will allow sampling of the ocean floor in water 5 000 m deep and penetration of the sea bed of up to 1 000 m. The ship will be able to break ice by moving backwards and forwards as well as moving laterally which will allow it to better maintain its position in the water. The vessel will accommodate around 120 people, 60 of whom will be researchers. The researchers will have access to, among other technologies, echo sounders, laboratories and autonomous and unmanned exploratory vehicles.
Navigation will be supported by the Russian Glosnass or American GPS systems but it is envisioned that the Aurora Borealis will take advantage of the Galileo navigation system when it becomes fully operational.
The vessel will be powered by the azimuth propulsion system of propellers mounted on pods allowing for better manoeuvrability. Advanced steering technology will allow the ship to accurately position itself within 1 m of its target.
This project is regarded as important for the EU and as such was included on the roadmap of the European Strategy Forum on Research Infrastructures (ESFRI). Funding for the research and design of the vessel is partially from the European Commission, which will give €5 million to the project, under the preparatory phase activity of the Seventh Framework Programme. Additional funding is being provided by the German Federal Ministry for Science and Education.