Thursday, January 15, 2015

Arktika-2012 + "Losharik" = "Drill, Baby, Drill!"

Research into this week’s sighting of the “secret” submarine “Losharik” (actually, the sighting of a photograph probably taken nearly ten years ago) led back to the submarine’s participation in Arktika-2012 – an expedition to determine Russia’s mineral rights in the Arctic. Below are some interesting facts that may be new to readers already familiar with the expedition:
  • The expedition took place between August 10 and September 28 and involved the civilian icebreakers “Dikson” and “Kapitan Dranitsyn”, as well as the Russian Navy’s Delta Stretch nuclear-powered submarine “Orenburg” and deep-submergence nuclear-powered submarine “Losharik”.
  • “Orenburg” and “Losharik” (identified in expedition reports and briefings as “scientific research submarines” NIPL-1 and NIPL-2, respectively) departed port in early September. “Orenburg” (mothership for "Losharik") surfaced near one of the icebreakers on September 8, marking the start of the two submarines’ participation in the expedition. The submarines ended their participation on September 24.
Commemorative certificate from Arktika-2012
[credit: Yevgeniy Gusev]
  • On board “Losharik” was civilian geologist Yevgeniy Anatolyevich Gusev. Following the expedition, Gusev posted to the web a scan of a certificate commemorating his presence on “PL BN-220” (“Submarine Hull Number 220”), which turns out to be the hull number for “Losharik”. Gusev learned very quickly that posting the certificate to the web was a very bad idea, but his attempts to undo this mistake were unsuccessful as the certificate was immediately reposted across dozens of websites, blogs, and forums.
  • The French iXSea GAPS (Global Acoustic Positioning System) was used to coordinate activities between the icebreakers and the submarines. Additionally, an underwater communications (UWC) system was installed on “Kapitan Dranitsyn”. The UWC system allowed for voice communications as well as for passing SMS text messages.
"Orenburg" surfaced near the North Pole following its participation in Arktika-2012 - September 27, 2012
[credit: urban3p]
  • “Orenburg” was used to survey large areas believed to have escarpments (steep slopes) that may be suitable for placement of a GBU-2 seabed drilling unit. Based on those surveys, locations were passed to “Losharik” for more detailed survey work. Upon completion of the secondary survey, “Losharik” communicated back to “Orenburg” one of three commands: "Drill" (site suitable for drilling), "Dredge" (no suitable site, but area contains rock bottom material that can be dredged), and "Empty" (no suitable site and no rock bottom material). Upon receipt of any command, “Orenburg” would then head to the next survey area. When “Losharik” sent a "Drill" command, it would hover over the site while "Kapitan Dranitsyn" maneuvered over the submarine’s location, lowered the GAPS system (which is linked to a GPS system) to determine the exact location of “Losharik” (±10m accuracy). After the submarine’s position was fixed, the icebreaker would order “Losharik” to depart the area so that the GBU-2 could be lowered.
  • Of the ten locations identified as possible drilling sites, only two were identified as suitable. Three sites were identified as not suitable but having rock bottom material. The remaining sites were "empty."
Diagram depicting how activities were coordinated during Arktika-2012 using GAPS, GPS, Iridium,and WiFi
[credit: Andrey Morozov]
  • “Dikson” and “Kapitan Dranitsyn” were able to share seismology and ice data using a WiFi network that had a range of 8 kilometers.