Only three people have been to the deepest point of the ocean, but a new Triton Submarines vessel will let many more reach 36,000-foot depths.
- Only three people have previously been to the Challenger Deep, the deepest point of the ocean.
- A new submersible from Triton Submarines will make it possible for many more people to reach 36,000-foot depths.
- The Triton 36,000/2 Hadal Exploration System has a 3.5-inch thick titanium pressure hull and three viewports for pilots to see the water around them.
Twelve people have walked on the moon, but only three have ventured to the Mariana Trench's Challenger Deep, the deepest point of the ocean. But Florida-based Triton Submarines is trying to expand access to these depths with its new $48.2 million submarine system.
The Triton 36,000/2 Hadal Exploration System will travel to the deepest parts of each of the world's five oceans. It is the only commercial submersible certified for repeated trips to 36,000-foot depths, according to Triton.
Previous successful trips to the Challenger Deep were one-time dives — two explorers reached the point on a mission in 1960, and filmmaker James Cameron went down there once in 2012.
Two people can fit in the Triton 36,000/2 submarine, and the 224-foot DDSV Pressure Drop support vessel will hold 47 passengers and crew. The support vessel weighs 2,000 tons and contains laboratory space with freezers for preserving samples.
After sea trials to depths of 16,400 feet in the Bahamas this past summer, the submarine was handed over to its new owner, the company Caladan Oceanic.
The Triton 36,000/2, which weighs 11.2 tons, can slip vertically down to 36,000 feet in less than 2.5 hours. The submersible is much lighter than past deep diving models, and 10 electric thrusters allow it to move in any direction.
Its 3.5-inch thick titanium pressure hull was built using advanced forging techniques, and Triton tested the vessel in Russia with conditions equivalent to 43,300 feet, or 20% greater than the ocean's deepest point.
Victor Vescovo of Caladan Oceanic, the expedition founder and lead submersible pilot, said at a press conference that the submarine was built with titanium instead of glass because he believes the latter is too dangerous.
Inside the temperature- and humidity-controlled submersible, pilots can rest on leather seats, use four cameras, and look at the sea through three viewports.
At the press conference, principal design engineer John Ramsey said his team has focused on including several safety features because there is no chance a person nearly 7 miles beneath the surface can be rescued quickly in case of an emergency.
"We've made anything that the sub could potentially get entangled in ejectable, so all of the thrusters could be released and the manipulator can be released and fall away. The batteries can drop away," Ramsey said.
If all 12 batteries fail, the submarine's main ballast weights will release to bring the submersible right back to the surface. Triton designed the submarine to easily last 12 hours underwater.
Triton's new submarine also includes several life-support features. Two occupants would have enough oxygen for four days, and the vessel has absorbers that remove carbon dioxide. Fire is still a risk, though the designers have created an analog life-support system that can't shut down during an electrical failure.
Patrick Lahey, president of Triton, said during the press conference that diving in the new submarine will be a "peaceful" experience.
"Once you submerge, it's sublime. It's quiet, it's comfortable," Lahey said. "There's no motion whatsoever and there's really no sense of the fact that you're diving other than by looking through the viewports with a light on."
Hilary Brueck contributed reporting.