New manned submersible to feature carbon fiber composite hull

OceanGate Inc.'s five-person Cyclops submersible will feature a carbon fiber hull manufactured via automated fiber placement and can reach depths of 3,000m/9,800 ft.

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OceanGate Inc. (Seattle, Wash., USA) a global provider of manned submersible solutions for research and commercial applications, announced on Aug. 21 the
completion of the initial carbon fiber hull design and feasibility study for its next-generation manned submersible — Cyclops.

Under a contract issued to Boeing Research & Technology (BR&T), OceanGate, the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington (APL­UW) and Boeing have validated the basic hull design for a submersible vehicle able to reach depths of 3,000m/9,800 ft. With its large 180­° borosilicate glass dome, the new vehicle will offer clients a chance to examine the environment, collect samples, and deploy technology in subsea settings in person and in real time. When commercially available in 2016, Cyclops reportedly will be the only privately owned deep­water (greater than 2,000m/6,600 ft) manned submersible available for contracts. A follow-on 6,000m version is slated for completion in fourth quarter 2016.

"Recent advances in material science, manufacturing and testing facilities that combine innovative engineering processes have allowed for a unique collaboration between OceanGate, Boeing and the APL team to complete the feasibility study and move the process to the manufacturing stage," states Stockton Rush, CEO. "The research, military and commercial markets need more vehicles for subsea exploration. OceanGate's Cyclops submersible will usher in a new class of vehicle to help fulfill this need."

The Cyclops submersible will feature a 7-­inch/178-mm thick, ­carbon fiber hull using proprietary Boeing manufacturing technology based on automated fiber placement (AFP). OceanGate says the ability to accurately place thousands of individual strips of pre­impregnated fiber will overcome many of the hard-to-control variables surrounding traditional filament winding processes and permit the hull to withstand the very high compressive loads at 3,000meters (300 bar/4,300 psi).

The use of carbon fiber will also help make Cyclops significantly lighter than other subsea manned submersibles, making deployment operations faster, easier and cost­efficient. While in the water, Cyclops' five crew members can comfortably observe the ocean depths through a massive glass dome, which offers unobstructed views for at­depth inspections, environmental assessments, discussion, decision-making and observation.

"We are pleased to work with OceanGate and the Applied Physics Laboratory at the University of Washington for the development of the pressure hull of OceanGate's next­generation manned submersible," states Jerry Young, Boeing Research & Technology director of materials and manufacturing technology. "We are looking forward to bringing our design and manufacturing knowledge of hybrid materials to help OceanGate meet this technology challenge."

OceanGate says operating at depths beyond 1,000m/3,281 ft with remotely operated vehicles (ROV) is extremely difficult as they require large, heavy tethers and specialized support vessels. Cyclops will eliminate tethering and allow its five crew members to observe underwater environments for up to eight continuous hours. Using a patent­pending submerging Launch, Retrieval and Transport (LRT) platform, OceanGate can operate a manned vehicle with ships of opportunity at much lower costs than most other manned vehicles and, in many cases, even less expensively than ROVs.

"We see great opportunities for the science and technology communities to work with OceanGate to provide a next generation capability for ocean exploration," states Bob Miyamoto, director for defense and industry programs at the University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory. "To have the freedom to more easily integrate new technologies into a submersible and then be there, in person, to watch over how sensors, controllers, or manipulators are responding to the ocean, will help significantly reduce timelines and cost of development."