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A half-kilometre manned sea dive in the making

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(Representative image)

A group of Indian scientists are working on a mission to send a researcher in a spherical submersible vehicle, half a kilometre into the recesses of the Indian Ocean. If they succeed, it will pave the way for a bigger mission to send a three-member team in a titanium sphere, 6,000 metres into the sea to scout for little-known life-forms and precious metals.

Satheesh Shenoi, Director of the National Institute of Ocean Technology—the coordinating scientific body—said talks were on with Bharat Heavy Electricals Limited, Tiruchi, to fabricate the submersible vehicle. “They are quite confident that they will be able to make a titanium sphere capable of a 500-metre dive,” he said. “We hope to get clearance from the Union Cabinet by March and then another five years for a 6,000-metre vessel. The 500m vessel should be ready in two years.”

Titanium is the preferred material to make submersibles as it can withstand the enormous pressure of water at great depths. However, being able to manufacture a perfect sphere is beyond the capability of Indian foundries and there is no consensus within the scientific establishment, on whether such a sphere (diving 6,000 metres) needs to be made abroad.

Challenging assignment

Once it is lowered into the sea, the personnel in the sphere are guaranteed a challenging assignment of at least 8-10 hours. The pressurised sphere will have a diameter not exceeding 3.2 metres and “the crew of three”— the vehicle’s pilot and the others making observations—will have to be prostrate, unable to sit or stand. The glass windows will allow them to observe and collect samples using robotic arms.

The submersible could cost around Rs. 450 crore, comparable to the Mars Orbiter Mission’s cost. “We’ve had discussions with ISRO also because many aspects of the design are common to space missions. Like oxygen filtration,” explained Mr. Shenoi.

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