Science venture to plumb new depths

PUBLISHED : Friday, 24 September, 2004, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 24 September, 2004, 12:00am

Deep-sea vehicle will probe ocean's final frontier

China is looking forward to a breakthrough in advanced technology in the next two years which will take it in the opposite direction from last year's Shenzhou V spacecraft launch - deep into the sea.

A deep-sea exploration programme has 'quietly' got under way, China News Service reported yesterday.

The most important part of the scientific programme is a three-person submersible vehicle that can go down to a record depth of 7,000 metres. It is expected to start trial operations in 2006.

'Qingdao was chosen as the base for the country's deep submergence research by the State Oceanic Administration last month. We are still waiting for final approval by the State Council,' said Gao Jie , of the Qingdao Municipal Science and Technology Commission.

'Preparation [for the trial operation] is likely to be finished in the first half of 2006, which is slightly delayed from the previous plan due to a lack of general knowledge of the programme among officials.'

While refusing to give more details of the programme, he confirmed the agency's report that there were no major technical barriers left to manufacturing the deep-sea vehicle.

As planned, the submersible will take about five hours to reach its maximum depth, and a single journey could last as long as 12 hours.

The deep submergence programme was listed in 2001 as a major science project under the 10th Five-Year Plan (2001-2005), and in the '863 programme', also known as the High Tech Research and Development Programme.

China's first deep, unmanned submersible was made in 1995 and was designed to dive as deep as 6,000 metres.

It was made in Shenyang in 1995, with Russian help, according to the agency. But the country still lags behind in the field of manned deep-sea vehicles. Countries including the United States, Japan and France have submersibles that can take scientists as deep as 6,000 metres.

The mainland now has the capability to take researchers down no deeper than 600 metres.