Virgin Oceanic looks to build on what Walsh, Piccard, and Cameron have done by leagues, true leagues. The Virgin Oceanic Deep Challenger is capable of 12-15 miles of transit on the bottom. The previous trips have been lunar landers, fantastic for getting there at all, and expanding man’s knowledge of a foreign world logarithmically. Our sub will be like the later Apollo missions with the lunar rover – another geometrically greater level of exploration.
Virgin Oceanic looks forward to expanding these two visits with large scale exploratory dives covering 12-18 miles of trench floor in the deepest trench in each of the five ocean basins. And when all of this is done, we will only have seen a hundred mile visual swath of a much bigger area, meaning exploration of the deep is just beginning.
Virgin Oceanic in tests in Feb, 2012. The submarine does not have its wings yet
“It’s quite possible we might put the two submarines together and explore different parts of the oceans,” Branson said. “They’re the only two submarines in the world capable of going below 18,000 feet.”
The difference, he said, is that Cameron’s performs better on the dive and carries more film and other equipment, whereas his comparatively lightly built Virgin Oceanic is best suited to exploring once submerged.
The Virgin Sub could scout out more of the bottom and then the Cameron sub could be used for more detailed investigation.
This progression of deep sea craft is being matched by massive reductions in the size of support vessels needed. The Trieste had a US Navy destroyer as its mothership. Jim has moved to a 63 meter 1400 ton steel vessel, while Virgin Oceanic’s mothership is 40 meters and a mere 27 tons; the scale of mothership has a huge influence on the cost of exploration and the Cameron and Virgin subs show the evolution of how the cost will be brought down so these dives can be made.
Virgin Oceanic has had a very positive relationship with Jim’s effort. We shared the development of sonar for use in deep sea navigation. Virgin Oceanic Co-Founder and Chief Pilot Chris Welsh was aboard with Jim’s team last week in Guam, and we both hope there will be a chance to dive the two subs together in the near future. The Virgin sub is excellent for large scale exploration and identifying areas worthy of more detailed examination, and Jim’s sub is perfect for detailed examination of those sites once found. We can achieve more through collaboration that just the sum of our efforts.
The ocean depths below 25,000 feet/7000 meters encompass 2% of the ocean… an area larger than the state of Texas.
Designed by Graham Hawkes, it 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 24hrs unaided. Once fully descended, the submarine’s hydroplanes (the equivalent of wings for submarines) and thrusters will allow it to ‘fly’ up to 10km 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, 1500 times that of an aeroplane, and protect its pilot from the extreme conditions just inches away. As Sir Richard and Chris each pilot the sub to the bottom of our 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 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.
Virgin also has a super catamaran