The successful water test of China's first deepwater mobile workstation
China Ship Scientific Research Center 702, affiliated to China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation has developed the first experimental deep-sea mobile workstation after a decade of scientific and technological research. Based on the completion of the final assembly and integration and onshore joint debugging, the first open-air pool completed the first phase of tank test yesterday. The workstation weighs 35 tons and can operate undersea for 12-18 hours with carrying six people. This is a second frontier exploration in China’s research and development of deepwater equipment following the successful development of Dragon manned submersible, laying a technological foundation for developing the first small deep-sea space station with withstanding the depth of kilometers below sea level and weighing hundreds of tons.
The experimental deepwater mobile workstation is not especially large and “it is about five or six meters wide.” A vat is used to absorb carbon dioxide to purify air and another to contain standby power. The power is equipped in the left and right side of the workstation. It is large to hold a person who is 1.73 meters tall and possible for six people to simultaneously operate in it. On the left side, the staff can observe through portholes which are the eyes of the workstation. On the right side, there is a barometer showing the air quality and ensuring the safety of the staff. Apart from the portholes on the top, there are ones at the back from which the way the underwater robots works can be observed and in the meantime, all operation interfaces are here. Therefore, although the workstation is not huge, it is fully equipped.
The inside diameter of the whole experimental platform can reach 2.1 meters and the height of the unfolded cabin ground is about 1.9 meters and the length 13.5 meters. Because it is simply an experimental platform, the module is only assembled with necessary experimental equipment without living rooms, bathrooms and so forth at present.
The workstation is not fully equipped
Strongly supported and promoted by the Ministry of Science and Technology and the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology, the deep-sea mobile workstation is the prototype of the future space station in China. It is researched and developed by the China Ship Scientific Research Center 702, affiliated to China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation. The research center starts the deep-water space technology and plays a leading role in it, mainly operating the argumentation demand and construction planning for the deep-sea space station technology, and focusing on the design and research of the deep-sea space station’s master station.
The workstation weighs 35 tons and can operate below the sea level for 12-18 hours with 6 people. The tank test can be divided into four stages to implement: onshore launch training, dock test, tank text and training test. It contains 18 test projects in total, including 8 special tests such as diving trim test, inclining test, normal manual and emergency manual tests, orientation test, depth test, height test and other automatic control tests, underwater navigation and positioning function debugging test, full task process function assessment test and 10 assessment test projects such as the normal and emergency water injection and drainage of the main ballast system, buoyancy adjusting, hydraulic system.
It is introduced that the tank test is mainly designed to fully demonstrate the whole hydrodynamic performance, like experimental platform’s navigation and engine driving, submarine bow-supine motion and submarine hovering motion, to evaluate the reliability of the platform’s propulsion system, electric system, hydraulic system, life support system and other systems, to adjust and check the validity and dependability between the exchange of the experimental platform’s control system software information flow and control flow. Besides, it serves to accumulate the original data in the platform’s reliable operation and its maintenance, to train the navigators and test staff for the experimental craft, paving the way for the second stage of tank test.
Weng Zhenping, the director of China Ship Scientific Research Center 702 showed that, the test mainly plans to verify the following two aspects: first, whether it can stay a comparatively long time under water with 6 people; second, whether it possesses strong operational capability as we hoped before, for example, whether it can carry operation tools such as autonomous underwater vehicles and autonomous robots without cables to probe and operate in a further place.
Until next year, the autonomous underwater vehicles and small submersible vehicles fixed or held on the top of the deep-water space station can walk a longer distance, like 2 kilometers, 3 kilometers and even 5 kilometers after they are released. The submersible vehicles in the small and middle deep-sea space station in the future can cover 30 kilometers and 50 kilometers.
The experimental deep-sea mobile workstation is completely different from the Dragon manned submersible. Thus, its navigation performance is one of the technologies needed to be demonstrated. The technologies which will be demonstrated immediately are its navigation performance, diving and buoyancy performance, long-term life support system and other functions and the test on its operational capability will be conducted in the second stage.
It is reported that the experimental deep-sea mobile workstation will carry out the second stage of tank test in 2014 and focus on the demonstration of underwater operation technology. Based on it, the test of the platform’s overall performance in the shallow sea waters and the test of underwater operation are conducted and the ripeness of the small deep-water space station technology in the marine environment can be further examined, providing technological basis for the research and development of the first small deep-sea space station with operational capability below the depth of kilometers below sea level and the weight of hundreds of tons.
Weng Zhenping expressed that, in 2013, the 30-ton experimental platform is mainly utilized to verify and demonstrate the functions of the deep-water workstation. And next, China Shipbuilding Industry Corporation will also build an experimental deep-water workstation weighing 300 tons and our final goal is to develop deep-water workstations with 1500 tons and 2500 tons.
It is expected to build a deep-water workstation in the future
The nuclear power will provide momentum for the deep-water space station
China’s first deep-water mobile workstation was launched yesterday and our reporter connected the responsible person of the deep-water space station’s special office in the China Ship Scientific Research Center 702. He told the reporter that the successful water test of the deep-sea mobile workstation is significant mainly in two aspects:
First, the workstation can launch the submersible without the effect of waves. “At present, when the submersible is launched, the weather must be taken into consideration and the bad sea conditions will impede the plan. Since the workstation is built, the submersible can be launched below the sea level free from the impact of weather,” said the person who is in charge.
Second, the workstation can stay underwater for a long time, providing deep-water operation equipment for the development of deep-water oil and gas exploration, the network construction and operation and maintenance of ocean observation and the marine scientific research and carrying out a series of tests on marine minerals and geology. “If the Dragon underwater submersible is compared to the Shenzhou spacecraft, then the experimental mobile workstation is equal to Tiangong-1, which is the future prototype of deep-sea space station in China.”
The responsible person also mentioned that in the research of the deep-water space station, three core technologies are needed to be promoted. First, the technology to develop new structures and new material technologies which are equipped with shells and can withstand the underwater pressure. Second, the power supply technology of small deepwater modular nuclear power and temperature difference energy. Third, the connecting device and docking technology of deep-water space station and water surface support system.
There is a convertible wet and dry compartment in the future deep-water space station, which is connected to the command module and also associated with the seawater outside. It has two doors and submersible vehicles inside. The submersible vehicles can both be manned and unmanned. When the door which is connected to the seawater opens, the vehicle is able to go out and execute the task. This door will be closed when it returns and the seawater is drained so that the staff in the command module can enter for check and maintenance.
“The current mobile workstation is simply for experiment and the final goal is to stay below the sea level for months. While at present the power from lead-acid cells and nuclear power will be required in the future to significantly delay the time the workstation can stay underwater”, said the responsible person.
The construction of China’s deep-water space station is divided into three stages
The test submersible is the first stage in the development and research of deep-water space station and the principle prototype to demonstrate the main functions and to verify critical technologies of the deep-sea workstation. In 2009, the research of the engineering was started and it was put into tests in 2012. The experimental submersible can operate with a depth of 150 meters below the sea level, life support time of 72 hours, total length of 13.5 meters and 6 people. The test submersible now has experienced 72-hour underwater navigation test, underwater lifting, launching test, underwater observation test, underwater sampling test to achieve the expected design goals.
The small deep-water mobile workstation is the second stage of the deep-water space station system and the whole station is split into relatively separate modules. The workstation itself holds multiple operation submersibles and equipment and they can cooperate with each other to improve the operational capability. Meanwhile, the manned cabin is enlarged to advance the comfort of the staff’s lives. Besides, the interior can be decorated and the food and the fresh water are also adequate. The staff can even take a bath underwater.
The construction of the deep-sea space station is the third stage. The deep-sea space station in the future is able to operate in the depth of 1000-2500 meters below the sea level and stay 60 days under water with holding a maximum of 50 people and weighing 2500 tons. It can be docked on underwater vehicles and transport goods and materials and personnel. In addition, the workstation is able to directly control the operation tools and equipment in the deep waters, to conduct the underwater engineer operation, to detect and exploit resources and to carry out marine scientific studies for a long period in all weathers.
America and Russia ever built deep-water space station
Just as the international space station is the core technology in aerospace, the deep-sea space station represents the cutting-edge technology in the ocean. The space station human beings built has operated for a long period, while few reports are concerned with it. Several major countries are conducting on the space station which is an important symbol of national scientific and technological development level and production level to transfer humans’ activities to deep waters. At current, china is the fifth country to master the manned deep submergence technology with a depth more than 3500 meters following the US, France, Russia and Japan. China’s Dragon submersible keeps the world record with the operation depth of 7062 meters below the sea level.
The deep-water space station is a kind of manned deep-water equipment which is free from the impact of bad ocean environment and able to directly control the operation tools and equipment in the deep waters, to conduct the underwater engineer operation, to detect and exploit resources and to carry out marine scientific studies for a long period in all weathers.
Since 1960s, the US and the former Soviet Union both have perfected the deep-water space station system in succession. But all systems were made out of the Cold War mentality then to cater to arms race and few of them involved civilian development. In 2000, Russian declared the construction of deep-water space station for civil use. Its target is simple, mainly aiming at the oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean.
Professor Cooper, director of National Undersea Research Center in the State of Connecticut, introduced the plan of constructing deep sea space station in America. Dissatisfied with the Federal government’s bureaucracy, he collected 500million dollars himself to develop and research deep-water space station in Hawaii, Connecticut and other places. Cooper now plans to build the first deep-sea living and working laboratory in the world called the comprehensive study on the marine atmosphere which is estimated to cost 7.5 million dollars. The marine base will be the world’s first deep-sea research equipment on the continental shelf with a depth of 139.7 meters below the sea level. Cooper’s goal is to build a laboratory which can survive for weeks under tough circumstance isolated from the outside environment.
The marine base which will cover an area of 2580 square meters can fall into 3 parts: superstructure over water, middle part over water and submarine base. A watertight column elevator will travel between the laboratory and the bedroom. The marine base program plans to construct an underwater residence with a depth of 139.7 meters and an elevator with atmospheric pressure carrying scientists, students and travelers, etc. The base is capable of providing tools and other equipment for further exploration in the deep ocean. The underwater residence will be fitted with a high pressure module and the pressure inside is equivalent to the outside pressure so that there is no need for scientists to continuously adjust the pressure difference when they are travelling back and forth.
The marine base will study the following aspects: the research on climate change, the exchange between seawater and air, the certification of ecological system model, the research and development of monitoring system, the research of residence, human beings’ responses under extreme environment, etc.