While Blue Abyss remains at the early stages of development, the plan, the vision, the intention and determination of this very interesting company and the major contribution and advancement of human exploration that it plans to create make this one of the finest examples of independent innovation based research, training and forward thinking technology development that I have personally come across in recent years.
Important too is that what Blue Abyss aims to provide will, when fully up and running, place the UK at the forefront of extreme environment development training in areas that include deep sea and space research.
There can be little doubt that significant opportunities are now being presented by the Space Sector and with the global market for space related industries expected to grow from a 2017 value of £155 billion to an annual figure estimated at £400 million by 2030 this is no time to stand still. Technology is and always will be at the heart of future space growth development but alongside, so too is the need to train those who will go into space or indeed, engage in the expansion of deep-sea exploration for future energy and mineral requirements.
Founded in 2014 and the brainchild of ex-Army diving instructor and technology consultant John Vickers, behind the mission statement one finds a vision that encapsulates a ground breaking and innovative project plan that deserves to succeed. Subsequent post Army moves to a leading global management company and at IBM and GE Capital provide an ideal background for what over the past six years he has developed into Blue Abyss.
John Vickers has built up a formidable and extremely knowledgeable team in order to support the Blue Abyss development plan and ideals. These include as board members, Professor Simon Evetts who is Research and Development Director, Steve Bennett, Organisation Effectiveness Director and Non-executive Director, Dr Scott Parazynski – himself a former NASA Astronaut. Senior Management members include Dr. Mindy Howard as Director of Inner Space Training and Vladimir Pletser as Space Operations Training Director.
Other notably important individuals involved with Blue Abyss either as consultants, ambassadors or members of the Advisory Board include astronaut Major Tim Peake and who was a former International Space Station crew member, Dr. Anna Lee Fisher who is a US physician and member of the crew of a Space Shuttle Discovery flight, Kelvin Murray, explorer and Director of Expeditions Operations and Undersea Projects with EYOS, Dumitru-Dorin Prunariu, a veteran Romanian Cosmonaut, Professor Anu Ojha, Director of the UK National Space Academy, Professor Bob Stone, Director of the Human Interface Technologies Team at Birmingham University and who is well known by me personally, and Emma Farrell, Andy Torbet and Steve Jones who together bring a wealth of diving experience to the organisation.
When the planned state-of-the-art facilities are built and are fully operational, hopefully over the next three years, they will make Blue Abyss not only the world’s premier deep-sea and space extreme environment research, training and test centre but also place the UK at the forefront of global deep sea and human spaceflight training, innovation. Within what will emerge as an international network of next generation extreme environment research, test, and training centres designed to support vital activities such as offshore energy, subsea technology R&D, space defence and also, commercial human spaceflight sectors as these evolve, what Blue Abyss are attempting to create is a formidable and very necessary component of what is required in terms of extending our exploration based research and training capability across new boundaries.
The pioneering centre that Blue Abyss is currently planning to build will, when completed, will be unmatched in the breadth of configuration and is intended to be the most comprehensive deep sea and space research training and test facility of its kind anywhere in the world. The primary function is designed to enable extreme environment development, both human and robotic, ranging from offshore energy industry through to the growing human spaceflight sector and adventure tourism.
The planned facilities for the first Blue Abyss centre will include full onsite mission control, hypo and hyperbaric chambers, multi-layered pool, sliding roof in order to facilitate insertion of larger objects int the pool, astronaut training centre that will provide multi-level functionality including an ‘Astrolab’, Kuehnegger human performance centre, microgravity suite, training centre with six classrooms, crane and lifting facilities, diving quality compressed gas supply both air and nitrox, training and experience mock-ups, secure workshops, onsite catering together with laydown areas and storage.
Of particular note will be the unique aquatic centre which will house what is thought to be the deepest indoor pool of its kind globally measuring 50m x 40m on the surface and 50 at its deepest point. The pool has been designed to have several entrance points and feature multi-stepped depths in order to accommodate a variety of activities and simultaneous use, leading down to the 50m shaft. On one side of the pool, a large table-like area at 12m will be able to house, for example, a mock section of the International Space Station for commercial astronaut training.
Ultimately, Blue Abyss centres wherever these are located will enable customer organisations to reduce costs of and enhance the capability for human and robotic procedural and technical innovation required to expand maritime and space research, education and industrial activity. The longer-term plan is to have state-of-the art workshops and facilities spread widely making full use of Virtual; Augmented and Mixed Reality technology and systems.
Addressable sectors include sub-sea technology, defence, remote operated vehicles, human spaceflight, human physiology together with a number of other activities including healthcare R&D, film and TV making, recreational diving and importantly STEM education. While the subsea technology sector has been growing apace there has been all too little investment in development of human and robotic operating systems and testing of subsea technology. Separately, maritime defence has been going through a long period of disinvestment in government funded R&D infrastructure and training lacks capacity in important areas such as training.
Human spaceflight, especially that being available to non-astronauts, used to be something that people dreamed of but now it is very close to reality. The emerging spaceflight sector is likely in my view to follow and exponential growth curve over the next few decades. As far as I am aware no commercial organisation that can provide end to end services in order to develop technology to train and fully prepare people for space travel currently exists. In addition to people, autonomous and remotely operated space robots will likely be a common feature in the years ahead and need both subsea and in space to support humans. Blue Abyss is very well placed to meet the needs of training for all these specific areas.
Ultimately the plan is for Blue Abyss to have a number of individual site operations not just in the UK but internationally. The Blue Abyss plan also fulfils a UK desire for an Advanced Research Projects Agency (ARPA) approach creating as it will, a new eco-system centred around maritime and space.
A hugely important aspect of Blue Abyss plans is education and outreach and the supporting of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics) education is fully recognised. The aim and underlying plan in this respect is to inspire children to become the next generation of aqua- and astronauts, explorers and scientists, with hands-on learning at primary level, right through to opportunities for under-graduates to work on live research projects. Clearly, if we in the UK are to remain and the forefront of innovation and the creation of future required leading-edge technology equipment and training, education and reaching out to young people whilst still at school is hugely important.
Blue Abyss has established strong relationships with a number of important companies including BAE Systems, QinetiQ, Thales, Airbus, 2Excel, Saab, Ultra Electronics along with the University of Birmingham, Cranfield University, Kings College, UCL, Northumbria University, NASA, Imperial College, GD, BP, Bibby, Oceaneering and more.
This is undoubtedly a very interesting and very different company, one that has huge potential and that can and will in my view play a very important role in expanding UK activities in the Space sector. I wish all involved great success.
CHW (London – 11th June 2020)
Howard Wheeldon FRAeS
Wheeldon Strategic Advisory Ltd,
M: +44 7710 779785