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Billionaire Richard Branson's next frontier: Virgin Oceanic

Noaki Schwartz/Sydney Morning Herald | April 6, 2011
Sir Richard Branson reveals Virgin Oceanic, a submarine the billionaire hopes to take to the deepest parts of the ocean.

Billionaire adventurer Richard Branson has unveiled a new single-person submarine that he said will be used to set new world records by exploring the five deepest parts of the world's oceans.

Branson said that over the next two years, the solo craft will go to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, the Atlantic's Puerto Rico Trench and South Sandwich Trench, the Diamantina Trench in the Indian Ocean and the Molloy Deep in the Arctic Ocean.

Branson's fellow explorer, Chris Welsh, plans to make the first descent later this year to the Mariana Trench, which at 36,000 feet (10.97km) is deeper than Mount Everest is high. Branson then plans to explore the 28,000-foot-deep Puerto Rico Trench.

Sir Richard Branson and explorer Chris Welsh announce plans to take a solo piloted submarine to the deepest points in each of the wolrd's five oceans.

Sir Richard Branson and explorer Chris Welsh announce plans to take a solo piloted submarine to the deepest points in each of the wolrd's five oceans. Photo: AFP

While the pilots for the other three trips have not been chosen, Branson said they hope to set as many as 30 Guinness World Records with the dives.

"The last great challenge for humans is to explore the depths of our planet's oceans," the Virgin Atlantic founder said at the Newport Harbour Yacht Club.

A news release said there was only one frontier left for Branson's Virgin brand, which has reached "the seven continents of the earth, up into the jet stream and soon, even into space".

An artist's rendering of a Virgin Oceanic craft in the deep.

An artist's rendering of a Virgin Oceanic craft in the deep.

"If someone says something is impossible, we like to prove it's possible," Branson said. "I love learning and I'm just very fortunate to participate in these kinds of adventures."

Branson unveiled the submarine, a nearly 18-foot (14.7-metre) long, white-and-blue plane-like craft with stubby wings and a cockpit.

The carbon fiber and titanium craft will be capable of cruising for about 6.2 miles (10 kilometres) and can stay down unaided for 24 hours. The sub and its accompanying catamaran cost an estimated $US17 million ($16.4m).

Branson said his so-called Virgin Oceanic expedition will have a scientific and educational purpose. He hopes the voyages will help to educate the public about mankind's impacts on the world's oceans and marine life.

He is partnering with Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego, Monterey Bay Aquarium Research Institute and Moss Landing Marine Labs in Northern California as well as other research institutions. Scientists hope to study the tectonic plates and eventually use lander vehicles to bring back water, microbes and possibly small creatures from the ocean depths.

 

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