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OceanGate sub makes its first dive to the Titanic

After years of building, testing and dealing with setbacks, Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate has sent a next-generation submersible and its crew down to the wreck site of the Titanic for the first time.

“We had to overcome tremendous engineering, operational, business [challenges], and finally COVID-19 challenges to get here, and I am so proud of this team and grateful for the support of our many partners,” OceanGate’s founder and CEO, Stockton Rush, said today in a news release.

The first fruits of OceanGate’s 12,500-foot-deep dive in the North Atlantic include photos that show the frame of a stained-glass window and fragments of floor tile from the ocean liner, which hit an iceberg and sank during its maiden voyage from England to New York in 1912.

The loss of the ship and more than 1,500 of the people who were on board — plus the wreck’s rediscovery in 1985 — made the saga of the Titanic one of the history’s best-known sea tragedies.

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OceanGate gets its sub ready for Titanic trips

OceanGate is finally on the brink of beginning its first deep-sea dives to the Titanic, the world’s most famous shipwreck, 11 years after the company was founded.

“I was reading somewhere that most overnight successes usually happen in about the 11th year,” the Everett, Wash.-based venture’s founder and CEO, Stockton Rush, told GeekWire. “So I’m hoping that is the case here.”

Those 11 years haven’t all been about the Titanic: OceanGate has been sending its subs into the depths of waters ranging from Seattle’s Elliott Bay and the Salish Sea to New York’s Hudson Canyon and the Andrea Doria’s resting place off the Massachusetts coast.

But diving down to the fabled ocean liner that sank in the North Atlantic in 1912 has been OceanGate’s focus for the past several years. That’s why the company built the Titan submersible, using titanium and carbon fiber, and then rebuilt it when the first vessel wasn’t deemed strong enough to stand up to the pressure of a 12,500-foot-deep (4,000-meter-deep) dive.

Over the past couple of years, OceanGate also had to cope with Canadian red tape and COVID-19 complications. But now Rush says everything looks shipshape for a convoy of trucks to set out in a week to transport the submersible, its launch platform and other equipment to Newfoundland for staging.

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OceanGate picks its support ship for Titanic dives

Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate Expeditions has taken one more giant leap toward sending its submersible to the world’s most famous shipwreck, with the selection of the expedition’s support vessel.

The Canadian-owned, 93.6-meter (307-foot) Horizon Arctic will serve as the seagoing base of operations for the Titan submersible’s trips to the Titanic wreck site in the North Atlantic, starting in June.

“For this expedition, in one of the world’s harshest marine environments, we have selected a superior vessel, with outstanding features such as low-emissions hybrid propulsion, full redundancies and the highest standard of accommodations for our crew and mission specialists,” Stockton Rush, OceanGate Expeditions’ president, said today in a news release.

“Our focus has been on identifying a vessel and crew uniquely qualified in deep subsea operations with a commitment to putting safety first,” Rush said. “We have found that in the crew of the Horizon Arctic.”

Sean Leet, CEO of Horizon Maritime, said he was looking forward to conducting the operation from the company’s home port in St. John’s, Newfoundland.

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OceanGate copes with COVID-19 as it targets Titanic

Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate is getting ready to send explorers down to survey the wreck of the Titanic in its own custom-made submersible, but sometimes coping with the coronavirus pandemic can seem as challenging as diving 12,500 feet beneath the Atlantic Ocean’s surface.

For example, there was the time OceanGate had to retrieve carbon-fiber material that was held up at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama due to a coronavirus-caused lockdown.

“They had to send a hazmat team into the facility,” OceanGate’s founder and CEO, Stockton Rush, recalled today. “This was in March, and we got our material and our equipment out. I don’t believe NASA is back up and operating even now.”

In hindsight, sending in the hazmat team “was the right thing to do” despite the hassle and expense, Rush said, because that kept OceanGate’s hull fabrication process on track for next summer’s scheduled dives to the Titanic.

Now that process is well underway at Electroimpact and Janicki Industries, two companies north of Seattle that are better-known as aerospace contractors.

Rush said the experience taught him a lesson that other startup CEOs can apply as they cope with the pandemic’s effects: “Being nimble and not waiting is the only way to survive,” he said.

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OceanGate picks its supplier for carbon fiber

Titan submersible
OceanGate’s Titan submersible made use of carbon composite for its pressurized hull, and the company’s future submersibles will up the ante when it comes to carbon fiber. (OceanGate Photo)

Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate says Toray Composite Materials America is its preferred provider for the carbon fiber material that will be used in the company’s next-generation submersibles.

Toray CMA is the world’s largest supplier of carbon fiber and the leader in providing fibers for numerous aircraft, including the Boeing 777 and 787. The company’s U.S. head office is in Tacoma, Wash.

OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush said in a statement that Toray CMA “will play a critical role as we develop the next generation of manned submersible, to usher in a new era of exploration using aerospace-quality composites.”

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OceanGate and NASA team up on sub project

OceanGate Titan sub
OceanGate’s Titan submersible takes advantage of carbon-fiber technology. (OceanGate Photo)

Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate says it’s forged an agreement with NASA to support the development of carbon-fiber pressure vessels that could handle the crushing demands of deep-sea exploration — as well as the strains encountered in the vacuum of space.

The agreement calls for NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Alabama to serve as the site for developing and manufacturing a new type of aerospace-grade hull.

OceanGate said the joint design effort will be key to its plans for building a five-person submersible capable of going as deep as 6,000 meters (19,800 feet). If the company can stick to its current timetable, such a submersible would go into service next year and take on a series of dives to the wreck of the Titanic, at a depth of 12,500 feet in the North Atlantic.

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OceanGate to visit ‘Grand Canyon of the Ocean’

Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate is signing up citizen explorers for a series of deep-sea submersible dives in the Hudson Canyon, a channel off the coast of New York City that the company calls “the Grand Canyon of the Ocean.”

Get the news brief on GeekWire.

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OceanGate raises $18M to boost submersible fleet

Maintenance check for Cyclops 1 sub
OceanGate’s team puts the Cyclops 1 submersible through its annual maintenance check at the company’s shop in Everett, Wash. (OceanGate Photo)

OceanGate says it has raised $18.1 million in new investment, laying the financial groundwork for an expansion of its fleet of deep-sea submersibles and setting the stage for dives to the 108-year-old Titanic shipwreck in 2021.

The funding round was reported in documents filed today with the Securities and Exchange Commission. OceanGate CEO and founder Stockton Rush said the figure reported in the documents, $19.3 million, would be amended to reflect the actual size of the round.

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OceanGate will go deeper with its next subs

OceanGate Titan sub
OceanGate’s Titan submersible is designed to withstand pressures at Titanic depths. (OceanGate Photo)

Everett, Wash.-based OceanGate says it’ll build not just one, but two deep-sea submersibles capable of taking crews as far down as 6,000 meters (3.7 miles) beneath the ocean surface, into a zone of perpetual darkness.

The vessels will take advantage of the same carbon-fiber and titanium design that was pioneered for OceanGate’s Titan submersible, which was built for exploration of the Titanic shipwreck site, nearly 4,000 meters (2.4 miles) down.

Interest in the Titanic trips, which are due to begin next summer, is one of the factors behind the planned expansion of OceanGate’s fleet.

“Increasing demand for Titanic missions, deep-sea research and environmental supervision of deep-sea mining have further reinforced the business case for adding to our dive capacity,” OceanGate CEO Stockton Rush said Tuesday in a news release.

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How I unwittingly steered a sub to discovery

POSSESSION SOUND, Wash. — Steering a five-person submersible is like playing a video game, except for the fact that you’re piloting a nine-ton piece of hardware at watery depths that are inaccessible to all but the most experienced divers.

I got my chance to play this week during a survey dive in a pocket of Puget Sound known as Possession Sound, courtesy of OceanGate, a manufacturer and operator of submersibles that’s headquartered in Everett, Wash.

During our three-hour tour, GeekWire photographer Kevin Lisota and I were taken around the sound at depths ranging as low as 350 feet, in OceanGate’s Cyclops submersible. We even played a supporting role in finding a colony of anemones in an unexpected underwater setting.

The trip was part of a summertime expedition to get a better sense of the ecosystem on the bottom of Puget Sound, in collaboration with researchers from the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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