SeaOrbiter To Study World's Oceans
June 18, 2012

SeaOrbiter To Study World’s Oceans

Brett Smith for

As the International Space Station drifts across the sky, a companion craft might be doing the same across the oceans as early as next year.

Conceived in part by French architect Jacques Rougerie, the SeaOrbiter craft will be a mostly self-sustainable, half-submerged floating laboratory. Currently, the SeaOrbiter scale model and concept is the centerpiece of the French pavilion at the Expo2012 in Yeosu, South Korea and is slated for construction in October.

“Its purpose is to foster the emergence of a new relationship between man and the sea by the awakening, awareness and action of all to meet tomorrow´s every requirement for a future based on the precepts of sustainable development, particularly related to the sea,” a statement on the project´s official website said.

Expected to cost around $43 million, the craft will be 58 meters high upon completion – slightly taller than the U.S. Capitol rotunda. The SeaOrbiter is also designed primarily to drift with ocean currents and draw power from renewable energy sources, including solar, wind and wave power. These sources will be used to power its limited movement capabilities and life-support systems.

“It's designed to explore the ocean in a new way, mainly spending time under the sea, giving people the opportunity to live under the sea for a very long time, to observe, to undertake research missions, like marine biology, oceanography and climate issues,” the SeaOrbiter project's education and media director Ariel Fuchs told CNN.

According to a video on the SeaOrbiter website, the project envisions a small fleet of these ships with “one vessel drifting in each ocean and major seas” that will create an enhanced network of communication, allowing scientists to “monitor the Blue Planet.”

The website outlines several goals for the project, including developing an educational plan surrounding the seas, a more sophisticated understanding of the link between the Earth´s climate and oceans, and the “testing of human behavior and ability to live in (a) space related underwater extreme environment.”

There have always been striking similarities between underwater and outer space exploration and those trends continue with the SeaOrbiter project. One of the biggest supporters of the project has been former NASA Administrator Dan Goldin and astronaut Jean-Loup Chretien. The SeaOrbiter project has also enlisted the support of the European Space Agency and other industrial organizations to help develop the technology needed for the project and its onboard systems.  An associated side project is underway in conjunction with EADS, the European defense and space systems, to develop a biofuel as another of the ship's main power sources.

The SeaOrbiter can also serve as a training ground of sorts for astronauts, according to the website´s video.

”Fitted with a pressurized module, it can serve as a space simulator. SeaOrbiter will enable astronauts to test their ability to live in extreme environments and carry out experiments and tasks, just as they would do in space,” the video said.

Once built, the ship´s first mission is to go to Monaco -- the same place where Jacques Cousteau, a main inspiration for the project, began his explorations.