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Deep Submergence Vehicle

DR/V Trieste

Trieste, a deep-diving research bathyscaphe, was launched in 1953 near Naples, Italy, by the Swiss scientist Auguste Piccard. After several years of operations in the Mediterranean, she was purchased by the US Navy under the sponsorship of Office of Naval Research. Transported to San Diego, California, in 1958, she conducted tests in the Pacific during the next several years.

In October 1959, after being fitted with a stronger pressure sphere, Trieste was transported to the mid-Pacific to participate in Project "Nekton", in which she conducted a series of very deep dives in the Marianas Trench. On 23 January 1960 [some accounts state erroneously 27 January] the Trieste took two men to a depth of 35,800 ft ft (10,910 meters) -- the deepest spot in the ocean -- in the Mariana Trench near Guam. It took 5 hours to fall 7 miles, and when the explorers reached the bottom they stayed 20 minutes. No one has been able to come near that depth since then. At this depth, the pressure is over 8 tons per square inch. Restricted in maneuverability, it carried 34,000 gallons of aviation gasoline to provide buoyancy for the pressure capsule and other equipment.

In 1963, she went to the Atlantic to search for the lost submarine USS Thresher (SSN-593). In August 1963, Trieste found Thresher's remains off New England, 1400 fathoms below the surface. The bathyscaphe was retired soon after that, and some of her components were used in the newly constructed Trieste II. Trieste was subsequently was placed on permanent exhibit at the Navy Museum in Washington, DC.

DSV-1 Trieste II

When the submarine Thresher was lost on 10 April 1963, a committee established under Admiral Stephan [the Oceanographer of the Navy] to assess the implications of the accident concluded that the Navy did not have the operational assets to conduct missions in the deep sea. The loss of the Thresher was a wake up call for the Navy. A summary of the Thresher search operation in 1965 highlighting the Navy's inadequacy in deep-sea search, location, and rescue noted that the tragedy "demonstrated only too clearly the degree of ignorance and inability which surrounded the entire business."

To rectify this deficiency the Deep Submergence Systems Project, initially assigned to the Special Projects Office responsibile for developing the Polaris Fleet Ballistic Missile System, was established to develop deep ocean capabilities. Subsequently other associated development programs were assigned to the Deep Submergence Systems Project office, including the development of the NR-1 nuclear powered research submarine. The intelligence community also established Deep Submergence development requirements.

A decision was made to build a second bathyscaphe, Trieste II, with the original Trieste assigned to the Deep Submergence Systems Project to test equipment that would be employed on other deep submergence systems. The new Trieste II, built at the Mare Island Naval Shipyard in September 1965, was a more sophisticated craft capable of clandestine operations in the deep ocean. DSV-1 Trieste II was designed by the Naval Electronic Laboratory, San Diego, CA, as a successor to Trieste -the Navy's pioneer bathyscaph. Trieste II incorporated the Terni, Italian-built sphere used in Trieste with an entirely new bathyscaph float-one more seaworthy and streamlined. Controlled from the pressure-resistant sphere on the underside, Trieste II was equipped with cameras, sonars, and sensors for scientific observation at great depths. Her instrumentation could be varied to suit the mission in hand. Completed in early 1964, conducted dives in the vicinity of the loss site of Thresher - operations commenced by the first Trieste the year before. She recovered bits of wreckage, positively fixing the remains as that of the lost Thresher, in September 1964.

Subsequently shipped back to San Diego, Trieste II underwent a series of modifications until April 1965, when she was launched on 19 April to undertake the first of many dives as test and training vehicle for the Navy's new deep submergence program. After a series of dives off San Diego, Trieste II underwent further modifications at Mare Island to improve the craft's undersea navigation, control, and small object recovery. When the Scorpion was lost on 22 May 1968, the previously unacknowledged Trieste II was used by the Navy to carry out the investigation.

This unique craft was listed only as "equipment" in the Navy inventory until the autumn of 1969. On 1 September 1969, Trieste II was placed in service, with the hull number X-l. Reclassified as a deep submergence vehicle (DSV) on 1 June 1971, Trieste II (DSV-1) continued her active service in the Pacific Fleet into 1980, and in May 1984 she was assigned to Submarine Development Group 1. She was moved to the Keyport Naval Undersea Warfare Center in 1985. Trieste II made dives as deep as 20,000 feet.


DSV-2 ALVIN, a deep-submergence oceanographic research submarine, was owned by the Office of Naval Research of the US Navy and operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI). Alvin was the first deep diving research vehicle to operate like a submarine. In spite of many safety precautions, diving in Alvin carries risks. In the 1960s, Alvins emergency features included a releasable sphere, compressed air tanks to blow the main ballast and SCUBA gear for each man.

In 1962 the Office of Naval Research (ONR) and Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) began work on this more maneuverable submersible, capable of operating at depths greater than 6,000 feet. Three 6-foot diameter HY-100 steel spheres were fabricated, and on 05 June 1964 the DSV-2 Alvin was commissioned. ALVIN began routine diving for scientific research in 1966. Alvins usefulness for work on the sea floor was proven early when she participated in the search for a hydrogen bomb lost in the Mediterranean off Spain following a January 1966 plane collision. On March 15, 1966, Alvin located the bomb. During the entire mission, Alvin made 34 dives totaling 228 hours to depths as great at 300 feet. The three-place submersible Alvin", operated by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (in Massachussetts) for the Office of Naval Research, has four viewing ports, video and still cameras, one six function and one seven function manipulator, scanning sonar, and can be fitted with a variety of other specialized equipment. Since 1971 Alvin has been "loaned" by the Navy to Woods Hole. By 1977 the submersible had made over 650 dives in many areas of the Atlantic Ocean including the Azores, Spain, and Bahamas, the Straits of Florida and the Gulf of Maine, of which nearly 300 dives were completed for purely scientific purposes. Many of the dives were for vehicle test and training purposes, and a significant number have been required by the US Navy for various engineering and salvage operations. Extensive engineering research and development in support of the ALVIN project has been provided by personnel from WHOI, US Navy laboratories and private industry.

The Deep Submergence Vehicle DSV-2 Alvin has undergone many improvements and changes since the 1960s. In the 1970s, was fitted with a titanium sphere and a new propulsion system. A proposal to replace Alvins steel hull with one made of titanium was approved. In the late 1960s, Project Titanes was organized to increase the operational depth of Alvin, as well as to increase its payload capability. The high strength-to-weight ratio of titanium would double the sub's depth capability to 3,658 meters (12,000 feet), and allow Alvin to carry a greater payload. During a 1972-1973 overhaul, the new titanium personnel sphere was installed. In 1973, the sphere and other new components were successfully tested. In 1974, equipped with a new titanium personnel sphere capable of diving to 12,000 feet, ALVIN joined the French submersibles Cyana and Archimede to look at one of the largest surface features on Earth. Project FAMOUS confirmed the theory of plate tectonics and continental drift.

Maximum operating depth was 4,000 m (13,100 fsw), but after a prolonged effort, in 1994 the US Navy approved an increase of Alvin's operating depth from 4,000 meters to 4,500 meters. This depth increase resulted in about 25% more of the ocean floor within reach of Alvin, about 86% of the ocean basins. By 1994, the 30th year of operation, none of the original Alvin remained in use, since every component of the original vehicle had been replaced over the years, including the frame and pressure hull.

Until 1984, Alvins support ship was Lulu, a 96-foot catamaran barge with lifting and repair facilities. In 1983, an A-frame was installed on the Atlantis II allowing it to become Alvins new tender. The improvements and new capabilities that the Atlantis II offered were the dawn of a new era for the deep submergence program. Alvin's normal support ship was Woods Hole's Atlantis II, although she has on occasion been transported by appropriately equipped Navy Landing Ship Dock (LSD) vessels. Alvin has been operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution for ONR since the mid-1960s.

DSV-3 Turtle / DSV-4 Sea Cliff

The other two 6-foot diameter HY-100 steel spheres originally fabricated for the Alvin were later used for the Navy's Turtle (DSV-3) and her sister ship Sea Cliff (DSV-4), built to a design similar to the Alvin. Turtle had video and still cameras, two six-function hydraulic manipulators, and four large view ports. Sea Cliff had two 7-function hydraulically operated manipulator arms, three 11-cm view ports, and video and still camera systems.

The US Navy's Deep Submergence Vehicle Turtle (DSV-3) and and its sister submersible Sea Cliff (DSV-4) participated in deep-sea search and recovery, oceanographic research, and underwater archaeology. Turtle and Sea Cliff were classified as manned, non-combatant, untethered submersibles. Each vehicle consists of a 6-foot diameter spherical pressure hull mounted on a metal frame. Inside the hull are the control electronics for navigation, lighting and video, and a life support system capable of supporting a crew of three for 72 hours. Located externally on the frame are the battery and hydraulic, ballast, trim, and propulsion systems. There are also two manipulators that allow the vehicles' crews to handle and retrieve items on the seafloor.

The vehicles were launched on 11 December 1968 and accepted by the Navy in 1970. In keeping with the Navy's submersible tradition, they are named for towns in the United States whose names are reminiscent of the ocean or sea life. Turtle was named after Turtletown, Tennessee, while Sea Cliff's namesake is Sea Cliff, New York.

These DSVs are constructed of a fiberglass hull over the metal crew sphere, batteries and electric motors. The craft have television and still cameras, external lights, short-range sonars, and hydraulic remote-control manipulators. Turtle weighs 21 tons, Sea Cliff weighs 29 tons. These DSVs have an endurance of 8 hours at 1 knot, or 1 hour at 2.5 knots. Due to their limited range and endurance, their mother ship should be certain to remain in the vicinity.

Many submersibles control in-water trim by shifting mercury between chambers at either end of the vehicle. Mercury is also corrosive to aluminum, extremely toxic, requires extraordinary measures to prevent spills, and is difficult to clean up when a spill occurs. The Battelle "tungsten ball trim system" is the replacement trim system for Sea Cliff and Turtle. In this system sintered tungsten balls are the weight medium, stored in two stainless steel tubing coils at either end of the vehicle which are connected by a transfer line. Hydraulic fluid moves the balls through the tubing by means of slip flow past each ball, and plastic balls on either end of the daisy chain of tungsten balls provide a filler in the transfer tube when all the weight is shifted one way or the other.

Both submersibles were initially rated for a depth of 6,500 feet but received upgrades in the early 1980s. While the Turtle was rated at 10,000 foot operating depth, Sea Cliff had her original HY-100 steel crew sphere replaced in 1983 with a titanium sphere capable of 20,000 foot operations. Sea Cliff reached this depth for the first time in March 1985, during a dive in the Middle America Trench off the Pacific coast of Central America. This increase of 1500 meters over Alvin's limits provided access to 37% more of the sea floor. Turtle reached a depth of 10,000 feet on 3 October 1980, and Sea Cliff made it to 20,000 feet on 10 March 1985. At that depth, Sea Cliff was capable of reaching 98 percent of the world's ocean floor, an area roughly six times that of the surface of the moon. As a result, Sea Cliff enjoyed the distinction of being named flagship for the "Year of the Ocean" in 1985.

Sea Cliff and Turtle were often called upon to locate and recover Navy equipment that was lost at sea. During its 20,000 foot sea trials, Sea Cliff was ordered to the site of a downed Marine Corps Sea Stallion helicopter. Operating at 1,500 feet, Sea Cliff used its manipulators both to retrieve pieces of the aircraft directly and to attach lift lines to other parts. Sections as heavy as 10,000 pounds were recovered. Overall, 61 dives were made, and 80 percent of the aircraft was retrieved. Most importantly, Sea Cliff found and recovered the remains of the aircraft's four crew members for family burial. Similarly, in 1995, when a Navy swimmer delivery vehicle (SDV) was lost in 814 feet of water off Hawaii, Turtle found and retrieved it in an operation many thought was impossible.

Turtle and Sea Cliff had been based from Navy Landing Ship Dock (LSD), or, more commonly, from Navy oceanographic vessels. Any of them could be transported by C-5 aircraft, although such deployments were uncommon.

Since the end of the Cold War the submersibles Sea Cliff and Turtle were available for limited academic research through a cooperative arrangement between NOAA and the US Navy's Submarine Development Squadron Five in San Diego CA. These vehicles have expanded opportunities for peer-reviewed deep submergence research off the US west coast. Sea Cliff provided the science community with some additional access to the deep sea and permitted observations to depths approaching 6000 meters, a depth range otherwise only available by using ROV Jason or the other tethered vehicles of the National Deep Submergence Facility. This increase of 1500 meters over Alvin's limits provides access to 37% more of the sea floor, which represents an area that is greater than 90% of the surface area presently exposed on the continents.

Following the Navy's decision to decommission Sea Cliff, NAVSEA requested Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution (WHOI) to provide a technical assessment and costing of how to best integrate Sea Cliff into the National Deep Submergence Facility. Perhaps the most serious and biggest impediment to integrating Sea Cliff into the US deep submergence program was the lack of an adequate and stable funding base.

Turtle was retired and loaned to the Mystic Aquarium, Institute for Exploration, where it was placed on permanent display. Sea Cliff was turned over to the Office of Naval Research and as of 1999 was being stored at the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute while its future was debated.

DSV-5 Nemo

According to the Naval Vessel Register, the somewhat puzzling "DSV-5" was disposed of in 1986 by transfer to other Government Agencies. The term "Other Goverment Agency" has been used more recently in other contexts to reference the Central Intelligence Agency, though there is no particular reason to believe this is the case in this instance. The fact of the existence of this vehicle was not widely attested and initially details remained entirely obscure. Once the name ex-NEMO became associated with DSV-5, seemingly another Alvin class DSV, it became possible to resolve the puzzle.

The word "nemo" in Latin, means "no one, nobody" as in Nemo me impune lacessit [No one provokes me with impunity] (motto of the kings of Scotland), nemo liber est qui corpori servit [No one is free who is a slave to his body], Cogitationis poenam nemo meretur [No one deserves punishment for a though], or Absenti nemo non nocuisse velit [Let no one be willing to speak ill of the absent]. NEMO would be a good name for a vessel with no apparent history.

In 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea Jules Verne the commander of the submarine Nautilus is asked "By what name ought I to address you?" "Sir," replied the commander, "I am nothing to you but Captain Nemo; and you and your companions are nothing to me but the passengers of the Nautilus." Published in 1870, this book inspired many early submarine designers, including Simon Lake.

"20,000 Leagues Under the Sea" (Walt Disney Productions, 1954) is a classic screen adaptation of Jules Verne's early vision of submarine warfare. James Mason is the mad Captain Nemo, who takes on the warmongering imperialist countries with his submarine Nautilus. Also stars Kirk Douglas and Peter Lorre. This Oscar winner (for special effects and set decoration) was a remake of a 1916 silent film.

During the late 1960s pressure resistant hulls were fabricated from acrylic plastic to give the crews of research submersibles underwater panoramic visibility. A two-phase development of a manned submersible using a plexiglass capsule to provide nearly total visibility soon will be launched. Operated in clear water, it will give the occupants the effect of being in an underwater helicopter. Operated in murky water, it would allow the pilot to stabilize and orient to an object easily, as ahead-scanning and peripheral vision will be unrestrained by the dimensions of viewing ports.

Two standard spherical hull designs were available; (a) 66 inch outside diameter and 2.5 inch thickness for 600 ft. operational depth and (b) 66 inch outside diameter and 4.0 inch thickness for 1000 ft. depth. The hulls were fabricated by adhesive bonding of 12 thermoformed spherical pentagons, two of which incorporate metallic hatches. These pressure resistant hulls met the certification requirements of the US Navy as well as of the American Bureau of Shipping. These hulls were incorporated in the NEMO, JOHNSON SEA-LINK, and MAKAKAI submersibles. NEMO was eventually designated DSV-5, while these other craft were not included in the DSV designation sequence. JOHNSON SEA-LINK was privately owned and operated, and while MAKAKAI was a Naval vessel, it was a 600-foot-depth vehicle.

The transparent hull submersible (THS), MAKAKAI (Hawaiian for 'Eye of the Sea'), could carry two men within its transparent acrylic hull to depths of 183 m. All-around visibility and a very high strength-to-weight ratio are special features of its design. A number of innovations were made during the submersible's development at the Naval Undersea Research And Development Center, San Diego, CA. Included among the innovations are specialized designs in materials, structures, data processing, propulsion control, and life-support equipment. It had a unique propulsion system -- cycloidal thrusters -- which allowed the vehicle to maneuver simultaneously in all three dimensions. Of note was the a light-coupled through-the-hull information transmission system. This included a light-emitting diode transmitter, a photodiode receiver, and a 6-bit, digital, time division multiplex system that uses the transmitter and receiver to demonstrate information transmission via a light beam. The 64-bit command and control system was used on the Naval Undersea Center [NUC] transparent hull submersible Makakai. This system used a modulated light beam and was capable of transmitting all of Makakai's command and control signals through the submersibles 2.5-inch-thick transparent acrylic hull.

NEMO (Naval Experimental Manned Observatory) was an acrylic hulled 600-foot-depth submersible. NEMO consisted of an acrylic plastic pressure hull with a 61-inch inside diameter and a 66-inch outside diameter, plus life support and operational subsystems. The life support system provided 8 hours of life support, plus an additional 24 hours emergency backup for two men. Operational subsystems include a main lead acid battery power supply, electrical distribution and control circuitry, a hydraulic system to operate a self-contained winch/anchor system, and two side-mounted thrusters for rotation and short horizontal excursions. An air ballast system was included for controlling buoyancy. NEMO was initially certified by the Navy for operation at depths to 600 feet, and later for 1000 foot depths. The research submersible NEMO, launched and certified in 1970 by the US Navy, represented the first seaworthy, deep diving, one atmosphere environment, diving system which utilizes a pressure hull fabricated from transparent acylic (polymethyl methacrylate) plastic. Its pressure hull is the culmination of 1) research into the structural performance of acrylic plastic spherical shells under long term cyclic external pressure loading, 2) development of economical fabrication techniques for acrylic plastic spheres with uniform curvature and thickness.

The objectives of the NEMO program were to determine the benefits of the panoramic visibility afforded by the transparent acrylic plastic hull, to evaluate the overall design and modes of operation of NEMO, and to judge the potential application of NEMO type vehicles to the Navy's oceanographic and ocean engineering needs. The Naval Civil Engineering Laboratory has conducted an operational evaluation of NEMO from May 1970 to February 1972. It concluded that (1) visibility through the hull was free from shape distortion, making NEMO an excellent observation platform, (2) objects look smaller and closer than actual, (3) operator comfort was good, (4) design of the vehicle was basically sound, simple, and reliable, (5) vehicle operation has been demonstrated to be safe, and (6) NEMO's versatility and usefulness were hampered by the lack of a true hovering/flying capability.

JOHNSON-SEA-LINK I & II, HARBOR BRANCH manned submersibles devoted primarily to research in the marine sciences, remained in service as of 2007. They were classed and certified to a maximum operating depth of 3,000 feet by the American Bureau of Shipping (ABS). The forward five-inch thick acrylic sphere accommodated the pilot and an observer at "one atmosphere," and allowed panoramic visibility.

Since the launching of NEMO, by 1986 several other submersibles with acrylic plastic pressure hulls had been built and successfully operated in the 0 to 3270 feet (0 to 100 meter) depth range. One candidate submersible hull material for Tourist Submersibles were thermoplastic materials such as acrylic. Acrylic spheres have been utilized on five submersibles by 1990. The thickness required for the Johnson Sea-Link submersibles' new spheres had been increased from 4 in. to 5 in. by ASME's PVHO. The original spheres were designed with a 20-year life expectancy but showed signs of failure within 15 years of service. This problem was a particular concern with plastics or composite materials utilized as pressure vessels subject to external (hydrostatic) pressure. By 1990 three manufacturers had presented Tourist Submersible designs utilizing acrylic for the main pressure vessel [MPV]. However, the classification societies had not established rules governing design, construction, and testing of this type of hull. To further compound the problem, HYCO Technology's ARIES, SEA VIEW, and COMEX's proposed SEABUS were proposed as cylindrical (not spherical) pressure vessels. No relevant test or operational histories existed, since the history was based entirely on spherical shapes such as the US Navy's NEMO submersible or the Johnson Sea-Link research submersibles. If large area or extensive use of acrylics as a principal structural material was to be approved and rules for it written, the analytical and testing work would have to be contracted and paid for by the organization requesting the rules. It would be expensive and might require test-to-failure of a full-sized hull section, as well as development of extensive fatigue data. If acrylic hull standards were developed, the potential market for this type of submersible may be greatly diminished by the time this can be accomplished.

SEAmagine Hydrospace Corporation, a California company, was founded in 1995. It produces several models of acrylic cabin submersibles. he Triumph is a 3 person vessel (1 pilot & 2 passengers) with a standard depth rating of 1500 feet (457m) or 3000 feet (914m). The spacious 60 inch acrylic cabin offers an exceptional field of view in all directions including directly below the occupants. As of mid-2007 SEAmagine had delivered 7 of its submersibles in six countries that had accumulated over 7000 dives.

Nemo, a Seamobile Class, manned submersible designed by SEAmagine Hydrospace operated by SUB-AQUA ENTERPRISES PTY LTD, is not the same vessel as DSV-5 NEMO.

DR/V Deep Quest

Lockheed Corp.'s DEEP QUEST was instrumented more like a space ship than a sub. Deep Quest was built for geological research and also completed several salvage jobs including the recovery in 1969 of the flight recorders from two airliners that crashed near Los Angeles.

In 1969, the Advanced Large Object Recovery System (ALORS) successfully recovered a 4-ft dia x 15-ft long cylinder from the ocean bottom in 470 ft of water. The large object was recovered first by using Deep Quest to bring up the recovery module with the entrapped object, and then by having TransQuest hoist the module and object from the bottom after they were released from Deep Quest. The two recoveries climaxed a series of operations in which the technical and operational difficulties and obstacles associated with large object recovery were encountered and overcome, thereby providing a realistic design base for the development of large object recovery systems for other programs. This concluded the planned activity in large object recovery under the Lockheed Martin Independent Development Program.

In 1969, a brief bathymetric survey was performed and seven cores obtained along two precise sampling transects by the submersible DR/V DEEP QUEST. This work was performed along a gullied section of the upper San Diego Trough slope off Del Mar, California. Purpose of the study was to investigate the topographical effects on mass physical properties of marine sediments as well as gain more information concerning the stability of underwater slopes and lateral variability of sediment properties. The cores were obtained along transects across a gully at right angles to the axis and down an interfluvial slope approximately parallel to the gully axis. Sediments within the cores were tested for shear strength, water content, bulk density, grain size distribution and Atterberg limits.

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Page last modified: 07-07-2011 12:45:57 ZULU