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Meet the Starship Enterprise of the Sea

A French architect’s audacious plans for a ship that will change the ocean exploration is done.


Garnering comparisons to Star Trek’s starship Enterprise, the SeaOrbiter is the brainchild of French architect Jacques Rougerie. Set to begin construction this spring, the 190-foot-tall semisubmersible vessel will be the culmination of nearly 30 years of Rougerie’s research and development.

Six of the SeaOrbiter’s 12 floors are below sea level, allowing for uninterrupted underwater observation. Although the ship’s main mission is to research the biodiversity and climate of the sea, the real goal for Rougerie is to give the public a better understanding of how crucial the ocean is to Earth’s well-being.

Ninety-nine percent of the $50 million project was financed through the French government and private companies. To get people more involved, Rougerie is crowdfunding the last 1 percent of the project. “The more humans understand about the underwater world, the more respect they will have for it,” he says.

22 People: Number the SeaOrbiter can host. The ship will carry a mix of scientists and crew members.

Quite a View: ‘We want people to appropriate the project to themselves,” says Rougerie. Which is why he raised money through KissKissBankBank, a French crowdsourcing website, to fund construction of the Eye of the SeaOrbiter. Equivalent to a ship’s crow’s nest, the Eye towers 60 feet above the surface. It serves as a lookout and houses a communications system that lets the crew send live broadcasts of life on board.

Hard at Work: Keeping busy won’t be a problem for the crew. The “modular lab” can be used as a laboratory for scientists as well as a fitness room equipped with treadmills. The lab also includes a medical zone. A certified doctor with basic surgery skills will be on board in the event of an emergency.

2,600 Tons Displacement: The overall weight of the ship. It is built from 500 tons of Sealium, a recyclable aluminum designed for marine environments.

A Life Aquatic: Given that voyages will last three to six months, there will be ample time to collect data and perform experiments. The underwater area, known as the hyperbaric lab, is equipped with an observation deck made of transparent polycarbonate panels, allowing for direct underwater observation. Because the conditions underwater are similar to those in space in terms of pressure and isolation, the SeaOrbiter will be used by NASA and ESA (the European equivalent) for protocol training as well as physiological and psychological experiments.

Go With the Flow: The SeaOrbiter was designed primarily to float along with the ocean’s natural currents, allowing scientists to study the relationship between those currents and climate. The keel weighs 180 tons and helps provide stability to the ship. It can be retracted when the vessel is in shallow water.

5 Ships: The total number of SeaOrbiters Rougerie eventually hopes to build, one to sail in each of Earth’s oceans. A number of partners have given their support to the SeaOrbiter project, including National Geographic and UNESCO.

IMAGE: Courtesy Company
From the March 2014 issue of Inc. magazine

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