Virgin Group chairman, adventurer and billionaire Sir Richard Branson, after having set his sights on commercial space travel through his Virgin Galactic, is now targeting the oceans’ depths.
Branson on April 5 showcased the ‘Necker Nymph’, a solo-piloted ‘flying’ mini-submarine in which he plans to explore depths to which no man has ever been before in all the five oceans on earth.
The submarine’s first dive is likely to take place later this year.
Pioneered by Virgin Oceanic, Branson’s new initiative, the submarine ‘represents a transformational technological advance in submarine economics and performance.’
The vehicle itself is a unique design made from 8,000 pounds of carbon fibre and titanium. The pressure at the bottom of the deepest trench is over 1,000 atmospheres — the quartz dome alone is under 13 million pounds of pressure, the weight of three space shuttles.
The submarine is designed by Branson’s partner Graham Hawkes and is the only piloted craft in existence that has ‘full ocean depth’ capability.
The one person sub has an operating depth of 37,000ft (7 miles) and is capable of operating for 24 hours unaided.
Once fully descended, the submarine’s hydroplanes (the equivalent of wings for submarines) and thrusters will allow it to ‘fly’ up to 10 km over the ocean floor whilst collecting video and data, something submersibles could only dream of.
At these depths, each individual part of the sub must be able to withstand enormous pressures, 1,500 times that of an aero plane, and protect its pilot from the extreme conditions just inches away.
As Branson and Welch each pilot the sub to the bottom of the planet, they will be aware that should anything go wrong, there is no rescue team that can reach them; whilst backed up by a mission crew, once at depth, the pilot and craft are alone. Full pressure testing will be conducted over the next three months, the web site said.
The craft will cruise at a max of 3 knots and can dive 350ft per minute. At that speed, a dive to the bottom of the Marianna trench and back is estimated to take about five hours.
The Virgin Oceanic web site says that the submarine provides the currently unequalled capability to take humans to any depth in the oceans and to truly explore. ‘It utilises the latest in composite technology and a completely unique flying wing to literally fly within the ocean environment; creatures living here such as dolphins, whales and rays have shown us this winged approach is the best and most elegant way to range the seas,’ the web site says.
The submarine is many times less expensive to manufacture and operate than any of its less capable counterparts and is in harmony with its environment,’ the web site adds.
The submarine was originally commissioned by Branson’s friend and fellow adventurer Steve Fossett who had intended to complete the first solo dive to the depths of the Pacific Ocean’s Mariana Trench, which has a depth of 36,201 feet (or around 11 km).
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