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NURC/Navy SRDD Development Mission 1

Principal Investigator: Craig Cooper
May 4 — 8

The NOAA Undersea Research Center (NURC) at the University of North Carolina Wilmington is working for the fourth straight year on a saturation project with the Navy's Specialized Research Diving Detachment (SRDD) to conduct two five-day Aquarius underwater laboratory saturation missions- utilizing Underwater Breathing Apparatus (UBA), or rebreathers, for aquanaut excursions.

Rebreathers were used in early Navy habitat saturation diving in the 60's, and from NOAA saturation habitats in the 70's, but since that time, excursion diving has been done almost exclusively on open circuit scuba. There is a continuing interest by the NOAA Undersea Research Program (NURP) in the use of rebreathers from Aquarius, and the Navy, because of their extensive background in using rebreathers, is the logical choice to demonstrate the feasibility related to rebreather maintenance in a saturation environment, and their use on working dives. Four missions were conducted in 2006, two more in 2007, and two more in 2008, using Navy MK16 rebreathers to conduct work from Aquarius, all with successful results for rebreather performance and work accomplished by the divers. Six NURC Aquarius staff divers are now trained on the Ambient Pressure Diving's (APD) Inspiration rebreather, and have amassed 400-500 hours collectively on the Inspiration. During this mission, as we have on several missions in 2008, onboard habitat technicians will be doing all their exterior "hookah" dives using rebreathers. With all the Navy divers and Aquarius staff diving rebreathers, NURC will be able to get a good read on air consumption for a saturation mission that uses no SCUBA for any of the aquanaut diving.

Further mission objectives include:

  • Maintenance of rebreathers by aquanauts during the mission, both planned pre- and post-dive servicing and checks, and unscheduled repairs; Increased bottom times between "fills" over open circuit scuba.
  • Logistics of supplying consumables for rebreathers such as CO2 absorbent/canisters, Oxygen and diluent gases.
  • Effort to increase the capacity of Aquarius' subsea HP air flask farm.
  • Installation of the Elk River Station (ERS), an important waystation for upcoming science missions;
  • Evaluate use of the NURP developed REPEX tables, or modifications of the original tables developed for repetitive habitat excursions under NURP Technical Reports 88-1A & B.
  • Results from the previous eight saturation missions with SRDD divers have proven the feasibility of using rebreathers from Aquarius, with NURC now using the APD's Inspiration as a vital tool for Aquarius operations. The final step in the process will be to review the possibility of using the rebreathers on NEEMO lunar analog and selected science missions in the future.