OceanGate engineer Mark Walsh programs control software as engineering technicians get the Titan submersible ready for testing on March 12, 2018, in Everett. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

OceanGate engineer Mark Walsh programs control software as engineering technicians get the Titan submersible ready for testing on March 12, 2018, in Everett. (Andy Bronson / Herald file)

Titanic in reach as Everett’s OceanGate works with NASA

The submersible company has tried to visit the shipwreck twice. Now it’s building a stronger vessel.

EVERETT — A hoped for visit to the Titanic has been years in the making, but OceanGate now wants to reach the world’s most famous sunken ship with some help from NASA.

The Everett-based company is working with the federal space agency to build a submarine that’s strong enough to survive the pressure of those kinds of ocean depths.

OceanGate first planned to study the Titanic in 2018, but its submarine was hit by lightning. The team tried again the next year, but it didn’t work out because of complications.

With the extra time, the company did more testing and realized the vessel wasn’t strong enough for multiple trips to the sunken ship, almost 4,000 meters under the sea, or about 2½ miles.

They needed a stronger material, OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush said.

“We had talked to NASA in the past, and found out they had a need for this advanced technology,” he said. “It’s one of the thickest structures ever made of carbon fiber. They are also looking to go to the moons of Jupiter and Saturn, and that’s likely going to require advanced materials to be able to melt through the ice and explore these watery moons.”

NASA is using the carbon fiber material to build the vessel’s hull, or the outer part of the submarine. Manufacturing is expected to begin in a few weeks at the Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama.

Later, the submarine will be assembled in Everett. OceanGate’s headquarters are on Craftsman Way, on the waterfront. About 25 people work there.

In a way, OceanGate and NASA are helping each other.

“NASA can only do this kind of contract work where it sees advantages to advancing technology and there isn’t really a commercial alternative,” Rush said. “We will be paying NASA for the work, and NASA will get access to this technology, so we get a pretty good rate and they get a lot of data.”

The submarine, called Titan, is about 5 feet in diameter and roughly 10 feet long, with enough space for five people to fit inside. The design is similar to another OceanGate submarine, called Cyclops 1.

OceanGate plans to visit the Titanic in 2021 from July to mid-August. A typical dive is around 12 hours long.

Along with researchers, anyone interested is invited to come along and may buy tickets to join the expedition. Proceeds fund the missions.

The group would stay on a ship for eight days at a time, above the wreck site in the Atlantic Ocean, nearly 400 miles from Newfoundland, Canada.

Once at the Titanic, researchers expect to take detailed photos, and scan the ship with lasers and high definition sonar.

“One of the questions that needs to be answered is how quickly is the wreck decaying, what’s its current conditions and how quickly is it going to disappear into the sea?” Rush said.

OceanGate also hopes to study the debris field, where personal belongings may be scattered, and marine life. Around 300 different species are unique to the wreckage, Rush said.

The Titanic sank during its maiden voyage, in April 1912. It was making its way between Southampton, England, and New York City. About 1,500 people were killed.

The luxury marine liner was 882 feet long, 92 feet wide, with space for 3,547 passengers.

Because OceanGate only wants to look around, the company doesn’t need permission to visit the site. However, officials know about their plans. Titanic’s location was first discovered by Robert Ballard in 1985, and photos were later taken by remotely operated deep-dive vehicles.

Rush and his team hope to go back every summer to see how the Titanic changes each year, and make that information available to other researchers.

There’s no set time frame to continue the trips, just until “people stop wanting to go,” Rush said.

Stephanie Davey: 425-339-3192; sdavey@heraldnet.com; Twitter: @stephrdavey.

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