Designed by French architect Jacques Rougerie, the Sea Orbiter is intended to be a semi-submerged mobile oceanic habitat and laboratory. While only a scale model has been built to date, plans to fully expand this design to a full-blown vessel are underway.
The Sea orbiter measure 52 meters from top to bottom and 15 meters at its widest. It is designed to drift along major ocean currents, taking two years or more to circumnavigate ("orbit") the globe. Its aerodynamic (or in this case, aquadynamic) airplane wing-like shape allows it decent maneuverability in both ocean currents and wind, plus it will also have electric back-up motors ("thrusters") to allow powered movement when needed. However, these motors would be used sparingly, to avoid scaring whales and other hard-to-observe sea life away.
Bottom heavy with two-thirds of its volume under the water line for highly improved stability, the Sea Orbiter will allow scientists to carry on long-term ongoing studies on oceanic environments and life. The top third with be a monitoring station that will make wave measurements and calibrate the precise position of satellite trajectories. The sub-aquatic portions will be equipped with a fish-collection system for studies of the pelagic ecosystem, plankton biodiversity and fish stocks.
Its "orbit" along the major currents of the world’s oceans will allow the experts on board to observe aquatic ecosystems on a global scale that may be difficult to achieve with even ships and submarines which need to return to port every few weeks or months. It also intends to study the relationship between the oceans and the atmosphere, and how that impacts the global environment as a whole.
The vessel will have a number of experimental modules attached, and like the International Space Station, these can be removed or added as needed. In fact, both NASA and the ESA are interested in the project, both for training astronauts and for observing the scientists working and living in such close quarters for several years on an isolated vehicle, to give them valuable data on how crews may behave on extended missions in space.
The full-scale version of sea Orbiter is expected to cost $30 million and carry a crew of 16, recruited from many different participating countries.
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