OceanGate, the Everett, Wash.-based maker of crewed submersible vessels, reached a new milestone this week during a dive in the Bahamas. CEO Stockton Rush became just the second person in history to complete a solo dive to 4,000 meters when he piloted the privately owned company’s newest vessel, Titan.
That depth is noteworthy because that’s how far down the wreck of the famed ocean liner Titanic lies on floor of the North Atlantic. Titan, which can hold up to five people, will be used in OceanGate’s “Titanic Survey Expedition” in 2019.
“This deep dive is a major milestone for OceanGate,” Rush said in a news release. “It validates our innovative engineering and the repeated use of our carbon fiber and titanium hull. Titan can provide access to half of the world’s ocean depths for up to five people at a time.”
The dive took place on Monday, about 12 miles east of Little Harbour on Great Abaco Island, and was the culmination of a testing program that began in 2016 with pressure tests of a scale model. The Titan development effort included testing in Puget Sound, with 20 shallow manned dives, followed by uncrewed dives in the Bahamas this past June to test the pressure hall.
The Titanic Survey Expedition was originally scheduled to launch in 2018, but was pushed into next year after lightning damaged Titan’s electronics. OceanGate is aiming to conduct the first crewed expeditions to the Titanic since the 2012 centennial of its sinking. The ship sank after hitting an iceberg during its maiden voyage from Southampton to New York in 1912, resulting in the loss of more than 1,500 lives. The wreck was rediscovered in 1985 at a depth of nearly 13,000 feet (4,000 meters).
This week’s dive took Rush seven hours to complete as it included multiple pauses during the descent to assess the integrity of the hull, according to OceanGate. That process involves the use of a patent-pending Acoustic Real Time Monitoring system, or RTM.
“The system uses acoustic sensors to detect sounds emitted by the carbon fiber material as it responds to the external pressure, and also employs strain gauges to measure the physical deflection,” OceanGate said in its news release. It’s designed to provide Titan’s pilots with an early warning of a potential failure, giving them time to stop the submersible’s descent and safely return to the surface.
At the Titanic site, scientists, content experts and citizen explorers — known as mission specialists — will join the expedition crew to “digitally document and preserve the historic wreck and debris field,” OceanGate said. The cost for mission specialists will be $105,129 per person — equivalent to the cost of first class passage ($4,350) on Titanic’s inaugural sailing … after adjusting for inflation.
So if Rush is the second person to dive solo to 4,000 meters, who’s the first? That would be film director James Cameron, who holds the world record by virtue of his solo descent to a depth of 10,908 meters (35,787 feet) in the Deepsea Challenger submersible in 2012.
Read prior coverage on OceanGate and Titan from GeekWire aerospace and science editor Alan Boyle here.