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NASA helped make the Titanic submersible that is now missing

As NASA tests lightweight composites on spacecraft, it helped make the Titan vessel that went missing on its way to tour Titanic wreckage.
NASA helped make the Titanic submersible that is now missing
Posted at 8:39 AM, Jun 20, 2023

Titan, the submersible carrying five crew members that went missing near the site of the Titanic, was completed at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama. 

According to OceanGate, Titan is the first deep-sea submersible to be built using carbon fiber. 

"NASA’s advanced composite manufacturing capability is ideally suited for the high precision and high-quality requirements of our latest hull design. OceanGate’s primary goal is to open the oceans and make exploring, researching and documenting deep ocean sights safer and more accessible to not only researchers and governmental agencies, but also to citizen explorers. We look forward to working with NASA to do just that," Stockton Rush, OceanGate CEO, in 2020. 

Titan is capable of sending a crew of five down to depths of over 13,000 feet. OceanGate says its design means it is "lighter, more spacious and more comfortable than any other deep-diving submersible exploring the ocean today."

The wreckage of the Titanic is located about 12,500 feet below the surface of the Atlantic Ocean. At that depth, the water would exert over 5,500 pounds of pressure per square inch (PSI). 

SEE MORE: Rescuers race against the clock to find missing sub bound for Titanic

OceanGate repeatedly boasted about its partnership with NASA in designing and manufacturing the sub. 

"NASA’s expertise in the design and automated fiber placement lay up of composite hulls was extremely valuable on this project,” Rush said last year. “The ability to construct Titan’s pressure hull with aerospace grade carbon fiber and manufacturing protocols results in a submersible which weighs a fraction of what other deep diving crewed submersibles weigh. This weight reduction allows us to carry a significantly greater payload which we use to carry five crewmembers: a pilot, researchers, and mission specialists."

NASA said it has been testing super lightweight aerospace composites for rockets and spacecraft to reduce mass. Decreasing mass reduces the amount of fuel needed to propel a craft to space. The partnership, NASA said, is beneficial in its goal of exploring deep space. 

"NASA is committed to cutting-edge composites research and development that will not only further our deep space exploration goals, but will also improve materials and manufacturing for American industry," said John Vickers, principal technologist for advanced manufacturing technology at NASA.

Boeing and Northrop Grumman were also among the companies involved in helping to support Titan's development.

So what is Carbon Fiber?

"Carbon Fiber is a polymer and is sometimes known as graphite fiber," according to a description from Innovative Composite Engineering. "It is a very strong material that is also very lightweight. Carbon fiber is five times stronger than steel and twice as stiff. Though carbon fiber is stronger and stiffer than steel, it is lighter than steel; making it the ideal manufacturing material for many parts."

The Titan sub has been used a number of times since its completion in 2021. It is unclear what caused the vessel to go missing. The Coast Guard has been conducting a search in the area around where the Titanic is located at the bottom of the ocean. 

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