OceanGate, an operator of manned submersibles, has completed trials of its new mobile Launch and Retrieval System (LARS) in the Gulf of Mexico during a two-week expedition to the Flower Garden Banks National Marine Sanctuary.
Operated similarly to a ship dry dock, LARS is intended for launching and retrieving manned submersibles and shock sensitive equipment such as environmental sensors or electronic data collection devices.
During operations, LARS is submerged by flooding its flotation tanks with water for a controlled descent to depths of 5 to 10 meters to avoid any surface turbulence. Once submerged, manned submersibles such as Cyclops 1 can lift off of and then return to after each dive. At the conclusion of the dive, the submersible lands on the submerged LARS and the entire system is brought to the surface in approximately two minutes by filling the ballast tanks with air.
“The benefits of LARS are that it is extremely mobile, and it can be cost-effectively deployed because it does not require a large ship with a man-rated crane or A-frame to launch and then retrieve one of our manned submersibles,” said Stockton Rush, OceanGate CEO. “This allows us to work in remote areas using smaller, locally available commercial ships at a much lower cost.”
LARS was jointly developed by OceanGate and the University of Washington Applied Physics Laboratory and was designed to be primarily constructed of commercially available off-the-shelf components.
“Submerged launch and retrieval systems are not new. The Hawaii Undersea Research Lab has used a similar system since the late 1980s,” said Dave Dyer, APL Principal Engineer. “What we’ve done is modify the concept to eliminate the need for scuba divers, and also make LARS modular so it is mobile and not tied to a fixed geographic location.”
During the Flower Garden Banks Expedition, OceanGate deployed LARS at a dive site over 100 miles offshore and performed multiple launch cycles, including a Cyclops 1 deep dive to a depth of 457 meters.
LARS provides a lifting capacity of 20,000 lbs. LARS is 10.6 meters long, 4.6 meters wide, and draws 70 centimeters when fully loaded.