NR-1 - Design
NR-1 was a nuclear-powered, deep-submergence submarine, capable of exploring ocean depths to 3,000 feet, which allows access to most of the world’s continental shelves. Displacing just under 400 long tons, she is roughly 1/16th the size of a Los Angeles-class submarine. Although her small size limits the underway crew to a mere three officers and eight enlisted men, the exceptional endurance of her nuclear propulsion plant allows the crew to conduct uninterrupted bottom operations for up to 30 days, restricted only by the food and air purification supplies on board.
NR-1 was conceived in the 1960s as a deep-ocean, bottom-exploring submarine by Admiral Hyman G. Rickover. Her turbo-electric drive train culminates in twin 50-horsepower propulsion motors outside the pressure hull, which give a maximum speed of 5 knots. She was also equipped with four ducted thrusters that enable her to maneuver in every direction, even while hovering within inches of the ocean floor. The vehicle also had a conventional rudder and diving planes mounted on the sail for depth control at “high” speed. Launched on 25 January 1969, she is now the second oldest nuclear-powered submarine in the fleet, behind the USS Kamehameha (SSBN-642), four years her senior.
Some of NR-1’s unique features included three viewing ports for visual observation, exterior lighting to support both television and still cameras, an object recovery claw, a manipulator arm for various gripping and cutting tools, and a work basket to hold items recovered from the sea. Unlike the smooth, faired black hulls of today’s SSNs and SSBNs, NR-1 is adorned with a bright orange sail, a flat superstructure deck topside, an awkward box keel underneath, and numerous protuberances around the ship, including two retract-able bottoming wheels – mounted with alcohol-filled Goodyear truck tires! These wheels give the ship her unique bottom-sitting and crawling capability.
The Mission Commander (OOD) and Pilot (Helm) sit next to each other on the Conn, where they are surrounded by ship control indicators and sonar and surveillance video monitors, much like the flight crew in a cockpit. Perched below the OOD and pilot is the Viewports Station. From here the viewports watch looks through three six-inch thick windows to the ocean floor below. Serving as a lookout and safety-of-ship watch when the submarine is conducting near-bottom operations, he also controls external equipment, such as the ship’s hydraulically-powered manipulator arm, to recover objects weighing up to 250 pounds. He can stow articles in the work module for retrieval at the surface or hook larger, heavier artifacts onto the forward grapnel.
NR-1’s control station provides video monitoring of the near-bottom scene as well as ship’s system status. For video and photographic imaging, the ship is equipped with low-light-level black-and-white video cameras, a color camera, a digital electronic still camera, and two underwater 35mm still cameras. Illumination for oceanographic surveillance is provided by a myriad of thallium iodide and incandescent lights installed from bow to stern on the ship’s underside. She is also equipped with sophisticated electronics and computers for navigation, target location, and data management and an advanced University of Texas/Applied Research Laboratories (ARL-UT) Obstacle Avoid-ance Sonar (OAS).
In contrast to conventional oceanographic research vehicles, NR-1’s nuclear propulsion plant gave her the ability to operate independently of surface ships, since it provides ample electrical power for all onboard sensors and life-support systems and gives the ship essentially unlimited endurance. However, due to her size and relatively slow speed on the surface, NR-1 is generally towed while submerged to and from remote mission locations by her dedicated support vessel, the SSV Carolyn Chouest.
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