Permanent Human Settlement of the Earth, Space and Ocean Frontiers

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Undersea Getaway

It has always been a goal of mine to develop and launch an undersea habitat that can be used as a weekend getaway. Fortunately, the Atlantica Expeditions has given us that opportunity! In a few weeks, the Atlantica Expeditions will be releasing the first drawings of the New Worlds Explorer – a two man habitat rated for 48 hour visits to the undersea world. It can, of course, also be used in a lake environment.

It was my first goal to build it for myself as a personal habitat that can be towed behind a regular automobile on a standard boat trailer. It can be launched like a boat, towed to the site, submerged, used, resurfaced and towed back home, all during a weekend outing. Or, it can remain on the bottom for a season of use. Those were the parameters of the design process.

Having had much experience with this entire process, I was able to make some design adjustments to the habitat to mitigate the worst and most difficult parts of the experience (such as submergence and hauling around many tons of mass) and make the process somewhat painless.

The habitat itself weighs in at about the same weight as an average recreational boat and can be towed behind a single axel trailer. The ballast mass for the habitat is launched separately. That was the only way this habitat could be handled with an ordinary boat trailer and could be launched from most boat ramps. Therefore, this experience is unlike a boat experience, even though it is designed to use boating infrastructures.

The aquanauts using this habitat are required to be proficient at SCUBA. The ballast block placement requires the bottom site to be surveyed for suitability prior to placing it there. The ballast block is also launched by a boat trailer, towed to the site and submerged, sitting on the bottom and waiting for the habitat to dock. Obviously this has all happened before the planned weekend outing.

It would have been possible to integrate the ballast block into the habitat, but it would have doubled the size, caused its weight to increase many times and required a crane lift into the water, since it could not have been launched by an ordinary vehicle at an ordinary ramp. Separating the ballast block from the habitat enables the use of ordinary infrastructure.

When the New Worlds Explorer arrives on site, the aquanauts descend to the bottom, hook up a spare SCUBA bottle to the ballast block and raise it to the surface. It is then connected to the habitat. Valves are cycled on the ballast block and it pulls it down to the bottom where the weekend undersea begins! The aquanauts simply reverse this process to raise it back up again when the weekend is over.

If the aquanauts wish to move to another place, it is a relatively simple matter to raise the ballast block and tow it to the new site.

The Atlantica Expeditions will be proving this concept out not only for use as an Expeditions asset undersea, but also for potential commercial development of this habitat sometime in the future. It will give us the opportunity to test all the ideas and design characteristics for integrating into a habitat that will allow just about anyone who wishes to live undersea on a regular basis access to Aquatica in their own personal habitat. We are estimating that these habitat systems will cost about the same as a mid-range recreational boat – and that was also another goal – making it affordable.

For more information, you can review it here in more detail at the Atlantica site in mid-July.