A submersible carrying five people on a tour of the Titanic wreck disappeared on Sunday after contact was lost with the craft less than two hours after launch. Extensive rescue efforts are underway, as the submersible’s air supply is estimated to last for just under three more days.
What is the submersible?
The missing craft is called Titan, a carbon fiber and titanium vessel owned by OceanGate, a private US company. It is designed to carry up to five people, including a pilot and four passengers.
The Titan submersible is 6.7 metres long and can reach depths of 2.5 miles. Since the Titanic is located at a depth of 2.4 miles on the Atlantic seabed, the Titan is perfectly capable of reaching it. It weighs 23,000 pounds (10,432 kilograms) and has a carbon fibre hull that is five inches (13 centimetres) thick. The hull is reinforced with two domed titanium end caps, enabling it to withstand the harsh conditions of the deep ocean.
Travellers are sealed into a cylindrical capsule, which is pressurised and has breathable air, similar to that of a spacecraft. There’s a small bathroom and a viewing portal 21 inches in diameter that allows two passengers to look outside at once.
How is the submersible controlled?
GPS signals cannot penetrate the water, so submersibles must rely on other methods of navigation. One common method is to use a text messaging system. The surface ship sends text messages to the submersible, which contains instructions on how to navigate. The pilot then uses a modified video game controller to steer the submersible.
According to Forbes, Titan was controlled using a $30 Logitech PC controller.
What are its safety features?
A submersible must withstand the immense pressure of the ocean at such depths. According to OceanGate, to ensure the structural integrity of the hull, a real-time hull health monitoring system is installed on the craft. This system uses sensors to analyse the effects of changing pressure on the sub as it dives. This data is then used to assess the integrity of the structure and ensure the safety of the crew.