Context: After the successful projects of ISRO’s lunar mission Chandrayaan-3 and the solar mission Aditya-1, India is now geared up to launch the country’s first manned deep ocean mission ‘Samudrayaan’ to study the deep ocean resources such as metals, minerals, and biodiversity.
Deep Ocean Mission
- Deep Ocean Mission (DOM) is India’s ambitious quest to explore and harness the depths of the ocean.
- As part of the DOM mission, under ‘Samudrayaan mission’, an indigenously developed manned submersible ‘Matsya 6000’ with a three-member crew is designed to be sent to a depth of 6 kilometres in the ocean.
- The mission was approved by the Union Cabinet in 2021 at a cost of nearly ₹4,077 crore over a five-year period in a phased manner.
- Ministry of Implementation: Ministry of Earth Sciences.
The mission has six pillars
- Development of technologies for deep-sea mining and a manned submersible to carry three people to a depth of 6,000 metres in the ocean. The submersible will be equipped with a suite of scientific sensors, tools and an integrated system for mining polymetallic nodules from the central Indian Ocean.
- Development of ocean climate change advisory services, involving an array of ocean observations and models to understand and provide future climate projections.
- Technological innovations for the exploration and conservation of deep-sea biodiversity.
- Deep-ocean survey and exploration aimed at identifying potential sites of multi-metal hydrothermal sulphides mineralisation along the Indian Ocean mid-oceanic ridges.
- Harnessing energy and freshwater from the ocean.
- Establishing an advanced Marine Station for Ocean Biology, as a hub for nurturing talent and driving new opportunities in ocean biology and blue biotechnology.
- Matsya 6000 is India’s flagship deep-ocean human submersible that aims to reach the ocean bed at a depth of 6000 metres in the central Indian Ocean in Matsya 6000.
- Accompanied by three crew members, the submersible carries a suite of scientific tools and equipment designed to facilitate observations, sample collection, basic video and audio recording, and experimentation.
- It has an operational endurance of 12 hours, which is extendable to 96 hours in the event of an emergency.
- The shallow-water personnel sphere of Matsya 6000 has been certified for human-rated operations at up to 500-m water depths.
- A human acclimatisation test in a shallow-water sphere was conducted with three personnel for two hours at a depth of 7 m.
- Developed by: National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT).
- Constructed from a titanium alloy, the sphere is engineered to withstand pressures of up to 6,000 bar. It is equipped with propellers enabling movement in all six directions and features three viewports that allow the crew to observe its surroundings.
- With Matsya, India will be the only country to have an entire ecosystem of underwater vehicles encompassing deep-water remote operated vehicles (ROVs), polar ROVs, autonomous remote vehicles (AUVs), deep-water coring systems.
- DOM is one of nine missions under the Prime Minister’s Science, Technology, and Innovation Advisory Council (PMSTIAC). It is imperative that DOM supports the blue-economy priority area, blue trade, and blue manufacturing in India.
- The ‘New India 2030’ document outlines the blue economy as the sixth core objective for India’s growth.
- Years 2021-2030 have been designated by the United Nations as the ‘Decade of Ocean Science’.
- NIOT has successfully conducted deep-sea locomotion trials on the seabed at a depth of 5,270 m using an underwater mining system, ‘Varaha’.
- The U.S.A., Russia, China, France, and Japan have already achieved successful deep-ocean crewed missions. India is poised to join the ranks of these nations.
Why has a depth of 6,000 m been chosen?
- United Nations International Seabed Authority (ISA) has allocated India, a 75,000-sq.-km area in the central Indian Ocean and an additional 10,000 sq. km at 26° S for this.
- The decision to target a depth of 6,000 m for the DOM holds strategic significance. India has committed to the sustainable extraction of valuable resources, including polymetallic nodules and polymetallic sulphides.
- Polymetallic nodules, which contain precious metals like copper, manganese, nickel, iron, and cobalt, are found approximately 5,000 m deep, and polymetallic sulphides occur at around 3,000 m in the central Indian Ocean.
- Hence, India’s interests span depths of 3,000-5,500 m. By operating at a depth of 6,000 m, India can effectively cater to both the Indian Exclusive Economic Zone and the central Indian Ocean.
Challenges facing DOM
- Issues associated underwater:
- High pressure in deep oceans: Being one metre underwater puts as much pressure on an object of one square metre area as if it were carrying 10,000 kg of weight. Operating under such high-pressure requires the use of meticulously designed equipment crafted from durable metals or materials. Additionally, electronics and instruments find it simpler to function in a vacuum or in space. Conversely, inside the water, poorly designed objects collapse or implode.
- Landing on the ocean bed presents challenges due to its incredibly soft and muddy surface. This factor renders it exceedingly difficult for heavy vehicles to land or manoeuvre, as they would inevitably sink.
- Extracting materials requires them to be pumped to the ocean surface, an undertaking that demands a large amount of power and energy. Unlike controlling rovers on distant planets, remotely operated vehicles prove ineffective in the deep oceans due to the absence of electromagnetic wave propagation in this medium.
- Visibility also poses a significant hurdle as natural light can penetrate only a few tens of metres beneath the surface, whereas space observations are facilitated through telescopes.
- All these intricate challenges are further compounded by factors like variations in temperature, corrosion, salinity, etc., all of which must also be dealt with.