• Jules Verne would have loved it


SeaOrbiter may be the stuff of dreams for Nautilus nostalgics and Star Wars fans, but it will be a serious research laboratory making new discoveries about the marine ecosystem.


This huge, futuristic oceanographic vessel built from recyclable aluminium looks like a giant seahorse, 58m tall with 27m above sea level and 31m below. It will be a 12-storey international oceanographic research station able to house a team of about 20 including six scientists, with special equipment and a pressurised undersea lab. It will be able to run three- to six-month surveys at sea. Its work will be to discover, analyse, alert and educate, but also to propose solutions. SeaOrbiter, the first of a new generation of ocean exploration vessels, will drift with the major sea currents and operate entirely on renewable energy. A wind turbine and solar panels will drive two electric motors providing an average speed of 5-6 knots.

Participative project
The consortium of industrial, technical and technological partners set up to realise the project also involves a number of scientific institutions. The partners include companies like ABB (propulsion), Technip (engineering), Constellium (materials) and Veritas (validation studies). On the financial side, a crowdfunding drive raised the amount needed to build the central nervous system. This is the stage the project is at now. For the rest, over 75% of construction costs have been covered. It will take 18 months to build SeaOrbiter once the budget gap is closed. SeaOrbiter, an airlock communicating between the worlds of land and sea, could be the symbol of a new generation of semi-aquatic people dubbed merriens ("sea-lubbers" or "sea-lings") by Jacques Rougerie, the vessel's designer. This visionary naval architect has just opened an office in Malmousque and aims to have SeaOrbiter's mission control based in Marseille.


By Maurice Gouiran