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Published June 6, 2005

A spectacular platform is designed to drift across the oceans of the world with the aid of the currents and the wind. It looks like a Viking ship turned on its edge. A visionary platform for doing science, drifting partly above the surface of the sea and partly beneath it.

This unique creation known as “Sea Orbiter”, has been designed by the famous French architect Jacques Rougerie. We find ourselves in the fantastic world of Jules Verne, and the three-metre high model of the vehicle which is actually due to be sent to the Jules Verne Exhibition in Paris, comes from MARINTEK in Trondheim.

“A vision”, says MARINTEK marketing manager Kjell Holden, who will be at the opening of the exhibition at the end of May. “Thousands of people are expected to visit the exhibition by September, and we aim to exploit the situation there to present a good profile of MARINTEK and SINTEF”.

Improved stability
The real vessel will be 52 metres high, with a beam of 10-15 m. About two-thirds of it will be under water, and that part of it will contain various types of laboratory for studies of the climate and marine life and resources.

MARINTEK has built a model of “Sea Orbiter” vessel and tested it in the Ocean Basin at the Institute.

“It is essential to have a really stable platform, since people will be working and spending a lot of time there. – It is important to develop a platform where the crew will not be seasick and with small motions and accelerations.

During the Ocean Basin tests changes were made in the size of the fins that protrude from the hull of “Sea Orbiter”, and small “thruster” propellers were also tested to reduce the motions of the craft.

“We managed to improve the motions of the platform in 7-10 waveheight to an acceptable level for staying onboard for longer periods.

The upper part of “Sea Orbiter” will be a scientific station for studies of the climate and changes in water and the atmosphere. The station will make wave measurements and calibrate the precise position of satellite trajectories. The underwater part of the new vessel will be equipped with a fish-collection system for studies of the pelagic ecosystem, plankton biodiversity and fish stocks.

The unique vessel will take two years to cross the seas, and will open up a number of new ways of making continuous observations. For the 16-strong crew who will live on board on cruises, it will be a trial just to live in such a confined space together with so many other people. The challenges involved will be something like living on board the space shuttle

Many people have also stressed the international aspects of the project, on which scientists and other experts from all over the world will be collaborating. It is also hoped that sheer adventure cruises such as these will awaken curiosity about the ocean among the younger generation.

Space research
Both NASA and ESA are interested in taking part in the project, since will be possible to enter the sea from the lowest part of the vessel. Carrying out tasks such as turning bolts and replacing modules under water, while wearing neutral-buoyancy diving suits, is rather like moving around in space, and is good training for astronauts. Working in neutral buoyancy, whether in a vacuum or water, means that you are weightless.

Kjell Holden says that training astronauts underwater is no new idea. NASA has training bases outside Florida, and Scott Carpenter - one of the first US astronauts - is on the Sea Orbiter team. He was the first one to launch the idea of astronaut training under water already in 1964. Early in the nineties MARINTEK also sought to use its own Ocean Basin as a space research laboratory. SINTEF health researchers were also in the picture at that time, with plans for temperature studies, isolated rooms, and so on.

Potential
“For us at MARINTEK, the project is interesting, visionary and important for the exploration of the oceans. We have learned a great deal and made many good international contacts in several branches of industry. We are being brought into a network of contacts with interesting possibilities” says Kjell Holden, who is already involved in new plans with architect Jacques Rougerie.

Quote: “Whatever one is able to imagine, others are able to create”.  Jules Verne

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