A series of deep scientific exploration dives in 2010 to more than 400 feet of depth resulted in very real human physiological limits being reached. Just minutes of productive working time at depth resulted in several hours of decompression. Decompression is typically carried out by literally ‘hanging on line’ and can be uncomfortable – and unproductive. At the same time, technology had reached its limits. Today’s closed-circuit rebreathers allow for 4-6 hours of life support. Most deep technical dives are carried out within this period where both work and decompression do not exceed this allotment.
By augmenting this with a portable habitat – literally a small void of space for the divers to remove themselves from the water – the 4-6 hour allotment can be spent doing work, with the very long decompression being conducted within the habitat. While saturation diving and permanent undersea habitat technology and techniques are well established, the portability of our Ocean Space Habitat concept puts near-saturation level excursions at our fingertips in a very cost-effective way. This vastly extends the range of technical diving, and resulting scientific discoveries.
The Gen 1 Ocean Space Habitat was developed in cooperation with Subsalve USA in 2011, and then deployed in the Bahamas in 2012 with support from the National Geographic Society. The system was deployed for more than 72 hours and allowed for two very deep decompression dives to be safely made with the habitat providing shelter and respite during lengthy decompression.
A refined Gen 2 system was developed to better match human ergonomics, and provide a dedicated life support system. With the habitat being a source of life support, and not simply a shelter, divers can maximize currently available life support (particularly closed-circuit rebreathers), and then utilize the habitat for extended stays – possibly upwards of 8 to 12 hours. The Gen 2 system was deployed in Hong Kong in 2015.
In 2016, a long-term partnership with researchers at New York University solidified with the filing of a provisional patent for this exciting new Ocean Space Habitat technology.
In today’s world, people want everything to be smaller, lighter, faster, and cheaper. A Gen 3 system is being constructed which has improved functional capabilities. The long-term objective is to arrive at a portable system that can literally be swimmed away from the beach, set up ‘camp’ if you will, and allow divers to spend an overnight at the work or dive location. This capability will easily double or triple the range (time and distance travelled of typical technical diving techniques.
Options are being considered for commercialization, however in the near term the Ocean Space Habitat is being developed as a scientific platform. With continued research in human ergonomics, human performance, and decompression theory, scientific diving will be carried out in more extreme environments that scientists have not had the luxury to explore. This may result in new biodiversity, clues about global climate change, and even how humans might need to adapt to increasing sea levels which place stress on coastal environments.
Permanent undersea habitation has been used as an analog for manned space missions since the 1960’s when our sights were first set on the moon. Today, space exploration is actually experimenting with inflatable modules for the International Space Station. To visit or even colonize Mars, the payload must be very, very light. Portable inflatable underwater habitats might become a useful proxy for future manned space exploration as humans trek further and further away from base stations.