Imagine a large ship, inspired by Jules Verne’s Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea — much like Star Trek’s Starship USS Enterprise — which can explore the depths of our oceans. SeaOrbiter would, according to its website, function as a mobile home for its 18 to 22 crew members, a scientific exploration platform, laboratory and a space simulator for astronauts. The world’s first space station of the sea, SeaOrbiter is the culmination of 30 years of research into undersea habitats.
The man behind the idea
SeaOrbiter is the brainchild of architect and oceanographer Jacques Rougerie and has supporters in high places — NASA, the Smithsonian, National Geographic, Rolex UNESCO and DCNS — with Prince Albert of Monaco and former NASA administrator Dan Goldin listed as ambassadors. Rougerie has previously built underwater habitats, laboratories, educative sea centres and subaquatic museums.
Six of the 190-foot tall SeaOrbiter’s 12 floors will be below sea level. The overall weight of the ship will be 2,600 tonnes. It will be built using 500 tonnes of Sealium, a recyclable aluminum designed for marine environments.
Topside operations: Pilots would control Sea Orbiter’s remotely operated vehicles (ROVs) from above the waterline. The outdoor operations area would also serve as a staging area for dives from the surface. Solar panels and wind turbines would provide energy to help power the ship.
Wet lab: A wet lab filled with tanks would allow researchers to perform experiments and transport certain live specimens to more sophisticated land-based research facilities.
Four-car garage: The underwater hangar will house a two-person submersible, two ROVs, and an autonomous drone that can dive to 6,000 metres.
Data hub: Would serve as a broadcast studio for SeaOrbiter to share its discoveries with the world. The studio would also house a pipe organ, the favored musical instrument of Verne’s mad captain, who swore off life on land to pursue the mysteries of the abyss.
Undersea quarters: Six crew members will live in a pressurised zone underwater, allowing them to dive all day to 100 metres. By living at saturation, they could complete experiments much more efficiently than land-based marine biologists do, and they wouldn’t need to bother with decompression stops upon returning to the ship. The pressurised quarters could also double as a simulator for space agencies to perform psychological studies on long-term close-quarters living.
The SeaOrbiter and its exploration capacities recently passed a series of test runs in Europe’s largest ocean simulation centre. The first underwater missions are already planned for the end of 2016 in the Mediterranean Sea, provided Rougerie can raise the $48 million required for the project.
Ninety-nine per cent of the $48 million project is being financed through the French government and private companies. To get people more involved, Rougerie is crowdfunding the last 1 per cent. The project recently reached its $444,632 goal on crowdfunding site KissKissBankBank.
Researchers would observe life above and below water, manage data, study the relationship between currents and climate, and explore the depths in submersibles. It will allow for new applications in various fields such as marine molecules, biotechnologies or renewable energies.
The total number of SeaOrbiters Rougerie eventually hopes to build is five — one to sail in each of Earth’s oceans. They would all employ the latest in solar and wind power technologies to sustain themselves in the ocean with minimum impact on the environment.