What once seemed science fiction may be becoming a reality. The futuristic SeaOrbiter ocean explorer, a concept conceived by French architect Jacques Rougerie, has been trying to reach fruition for the past twelve years. However recent developments suggest that the vessel is set to start construction this October, with possible completion in 2013.

The SeaOrbiter, if it goes ahead, will be the world’s first vertical ship to measure 51 meters (170 ft) in height. To realize this achievement more than 50 percent of the vessel will remain underwater. The project is expected to cost around US$52.7 million, with ambitions to observe and explore vast cross sections of oceanic life. Furthermore the SeaOrbiter hopes to implement a new standard of scientific communication that allows researchers to track and monitor marine life in real time. In doing so, a team of 18 marine scientists will live on board of the vessel. “This vertical vessel drifts in the currents hosting 18 oceanauts who will observe the life of the oceans on a permanent basis,” says Rougerie. “Marine life will naturally aggregate ... under its hull.”

The semi-submersible vessel will include an underwater chamber that delves 31 meters (102 ft) deep. Above deck is equipped with an open-air observation terrace, allowing the occupants to document migrating bird life, as well as enjoying some fresh air. The submerged sections will feature large portholes and panoramic windows, creating a state of the art underwater observatory.

The vessel will be installed with oceanographic observational and sonic equipment that will be linked to satellite facilities, while a multi-level atmospheric pressure module and a pressurized module will allow the “oceanauts” to live permanently in previously unexplored oceans. It is also anticipated that the vessel's design will include renewable energy initiatives such as solar, wind and wave power.

The SeaOrbiter project will be presenting a 1:20 scale model of the ship to the public this month during the 2012 International Expo in Yeosu, South Korea.

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