BACKGROUND OF THE INVENTION
1. Field of the Invention
This invention in general relates to the field of underwater vehicles, and more particularly to an underwater vehicle for use in maintaining and supporting one or more small submersible vehicles in a particular operation.
2. Description of the Prior Art
A large variety of present and proposed underwater activities require the use of one or more small manned submersible vehicles. Various submersible vehicles may incorporate a lockout feature whereby a diver may be maintained at the ambient pressure of the surrounding medium in order to perform extra vehicular tasks. In all conceivable missions it is evident that diver endurance is limited in terms of hours and the endurance of the submersible vehicle is limited to the range of a few hours to several days. The submersible vehicle itself is limited by its power source and is also secondarily limited by the useful time over which the personnel inside can be expected to function effectively. It is seen therefore that for operations away from a land base, there is a requirement for a support vessel for maintaining the submersible vehicle operational and for maintaining operating crews at high efficiency.
Surface support vessels are available for maintenance of personnel and submersible vehicles and include a deck crane for launching and retrieving submersible vehicles. This arrangement is extremely dependent upon surface weather and sea conditions which would delay or prevent the commencement of certain missions and in some instances may prevent timely retrieval of submersible vehicles.
It is therefore a general object of the present invention to provide an underwater support vessel which is uneffected by surface weather conditions and which can service and maintain not only submersible vehicles but the crews thereof.
Another object is to provide an underwater support vessel for submersible vehicles whereby divers may work on the submersible vehicle in a dry atmosphere at the ambient pressure of the surrounding water medium.
SUMMARY OF THE INVENTION
A hull means is provided on the vessel which defines a central well area. The hull has a plurality of compartments at least one of which is maintainable at a pressure equal to the pressure of the surrounding water medium. The other compartments are maintained at a pressure of 1 atmosphere. Within the central well area is provided one or more landing areas for receiving submersible vehicles of the type which have a mating hatch means. Extending from one of the compartments of the hull means is one or more passageways terminating at the landing area and including access means for cooperatively engaging with the mating hatch of the submersible whereby crew members of the submersible vehicle may transfer to the hull means.
Access to the landing area is also provided for divers swimming and working at ambient pressure for maintenance of the submersible vehicle. Canopy means are provided for the landing area and is preferably of the flexible bubble type which may be inflated to maintain a dry atmosphere at ambient pressure in which the divers service the submersible vehicle.
The divers at ambient pressure breathe special a helium oxygen mixture from their self-contained breathing apparatus while servicing the submersible vehicle. The canopy means can be filled with air and need not be filled with helium oxygen breathing mixture. The canopy air can become contaminated due to welding, electric arcs or other contaminants without deleterious effect on the diver breathing atmosphere.
Within the hull means there is provided a decompression chamber separating a compartment at ambient pressure from a compartment at one atmosphere pressure. An air lock is also provided for transferring items such as cooked food to personnel within the decompression chamber and within the ambient pressure compartment.
BRIEF DESCRIPTION OF THE DRAWINGS
FIG. 1 is a schematic plan view of a preferred embodiment of the present invention;
FIGS. 2 and 3 are pictorial views with portions broken away of the vessel of FIG. 1; and
FIG. 4 is a schematic plan view illustrating another embodiment.
DESCRIPTION OF THE PREFERRED EMBODIMENT
As seen in FIG. 1, the vessel 1, in plan view, is symmetrical on either side of a longitudinal centerline C. The vessel includes a hull means in the form of hull 5, and the general overall shape of the vessel 1 is defined by fairing means 7 and associated conning tower 10 FIGS. 2 and 3). The hull 5 includes first and second sections 5A and 5B each of which extends from the centerline C on respective opposite sides and in the same general direction as centerline C to define a central well area 12. In its preferred form, the hull 5 is in the form of a toroid having a plurality of interior compartments 14 to 20.
At least one of the compartments, compartment 19, is maintained at a pressure equal to the pressure of the surrounding water medium in which the vessel operates. Compartment 19 herein termed an ambient pressure compartment is occupied by divers for scientific or other missions outside the vessel including maintenance work on submersible vehicles, as will be described. Exiting of the divers from the ambient pressure compartment 19 may be made through exit means such as a vertical access trunk 23, also shown in the broken away portion of FIG. 2. With the pressure within compartment 19 being equal to the pressure of the surrounding water medium, the vertical access trunk may be kept open. For changes in depth, the vertical access trunk 23 may be closed, or the pressures equalized, if practical.
In order to allow the personnel in the ambient pressure compartment 19 to enter other areas of the vessel which are at a pressure of one atmosphere, there is provided a compartment 20, which is a decompression chamber for allowing divers to follow standard decompression schedules. To prevent contamination of the atmosphere in the ambient pressure compartment 19 due to the cooking of foods, the galley may be located in one of the 1 atmosphere compartments, for example compartment 14, and the food may be passed to personnel within compartment 19 by means of food air lock 25 which is also communicative with the decompression chamber by means of door 27 so that divers undergoing decompression may be supplied with food or other supplies.
Situated within the well area 12 is a landing area 34 for receiving a manned submersible vehicle of the type which includes a mating hatch means. One such vehicle 36 is illustrated in FIG. 2 and a mating hatch means 38 is seen on the underside of the submersible vehicle 36.
Referring back to FIG. 1, depending upon the size of the vessel 1, and the particular mission, one or more additional landing areas such as 41 may be provided within the central well area 12. Each of the landing areas 34 and 41 is situated on a deck means 43 and each landing area sits down in the well area 12 behind conning tower 10 and lies along the centerline C.
Passageway means is provided for each landing area and extends from the landing area within the central well 12 to, and is communicative with, one of the compartments within the hull 5. By way of example landing area 34 has a passageway means in the form of access trunk 45 communicative with compartment 18 and terminating at landing area 34 where there is provided at the other end of access trunk 45 a mating means 46 for cooperatively engaging the mating hatch means on a submersible vehicle such as 36. Such cooperative mating arrangements are well known to those skilled in the art. Another access trunk 49 terminating in compartment 17 extends to landing area 41 and terminates in a mating means 50. The access trunks 45 and 49 may additionally be viewed in FIG. 2, and the landing areas 34 and 41 may additionally be viewed in FIG. 3.
In order to gain access to the landing areas and the central well area 12 the deck 43 may be provided with apertures, such as 53 at the forward end of deck 43, and 54 and 55 at landing areas 34 and 41, respectively. Prior to, or after landing of a submersible vehicle at one of the landing areas, a diver may emerge from compartment 19 at ambient pressure, descend through the vertical axis trunk 23, swim over to the aperture 53 (or 54 or 55), and emerge therethrough onto the deck 43. Other diver access means will be described with respect to FIG. 4 subsequently.
In the absence of any submersible vehicles, the access trunks 45 and 49 are closed off to the ambient water medium to maintain compartments 18 and 17 respectively at their one atmosphere pressures.
In FIG. 2 a submersible vehicle 36 is seen approaching the vessel 1 for landing thereon. After landing and cooperative mating of the hatch 38 and mating means 46 (FIG. 1) the personnel within the submersible vehicle 36 may transfer via the access trunk 45 to compartment 18. With the submersible vehicle 36 in secured position on the landing area 34 servicing may then take place. In many instances it may be desired to service the submersible vehicle in a dry atmosphere. Accordingly, there is provided a canopy means such as an inflatable plastic bubble covering 58, as seen in FIG. 3, which may be placed over the submersible vehicle 36 and secured at its lower periphery to flange 60 of landing area 34. Thereafter the bubble may be inflated by air to a pressure equal to the pressure of the surrounding water such that the water is driven out of the covering 58 and a dry atmosphere maintained. The divers working in the air atmosphere continue to breathe from a special self-contained breathing apparatus. A similar canopy arrangement can be provided for landing area 41 for placement over submersible vehicle 66 (FIG. 3) after mating with access trunk 49.
For extended periods under water without the requirement for surfacing, it is preferable that the vessel 1 be provided with a nuclear power plant. The submersible vehicles however due to their limited size may have to be powered by conventional batteries or fuel cells. In order to allow a submersible vehicle to remain at a prescribed depth or in a prescribed area for a time period greater than normal, there is provided on the vessel 1 a system for the transfer of energy means from the vessel 1 to the submersible vehicle. This is illustrated in FIG. 3 where a submersible vehicle 70 is hooked into a transfer device 72 for the transfer of energy means within the flexible connection 75. If the submersible vehicle 70 is battery operated, the flexible connection 75 may be a power cable. If the submersible vehicle is fuel cell operated, the flexible connection 75 may be a plurality of hoses or other conduit means. In general the flexible connection 75 may provide any sort of energy means to the submersible vehicle and in addition may also include communication lines and conduit for the supply of a breathable atmosphere for the personnel within the submersible vehicle.
A reel 79 and drive means therefor is carried by the vessel 1 for reeling in the flexible connection 75 and transfer device 72 upon completion of an energy means transfer. Although submersible vehicle 70 is shown at a position below the vessel 1, suitable flotation devices may be applied to the transfer device 72 so that a transfer of energy means may be provided from the vessel 1 to a submersible at an altitude above that of the vessel 1.
FIG. 4 is a schematic plan view illustrating different arrangements of access trunks, ambient compartments and 1 atmosphere compartments. Hull 90 defines a central well area 92 having two landing areas 94 and 95.
If the submersible vehicle is of the type which includes two environments, one at a pressure of 1 atmosphere and another at ambient pressure, the landing areas, such as 94, may be provided with a dual access trunk arrangement whereby crew members in the one atmosphere pressure section of the submersible vehicle may transfer via access trunk 97 to a 1 atmosphere compartment 98 while the crew in the ambient pressure portion of the submersible vehicle may transfer to an ambient pressure compartment 100 by means of access trunk 101.
For submersible vehicles having an ambient pressure portion only, access trunks 104 and 105 may be provided to be communicative between the landing area 95 and the ambient pressure compartment 100. Access trunk 104 may carry the mating means for mating to the submersible vehicle and access trunk 105 may be for personnel transfer from the ambient pressure compartment 100 to the landing area 95. Obviously numerous other arrangements may be incorporated such as selective access to either an ambient pressure or 1 atmosphere compartment by the crew of a submersible vehicle and wet or dry communication with the landing area by means of the servicing crew.
Accordingly there has been provided an underwater vessel for support of small manned submersible vehicles and which is not subject to adverse weather or sea conditions. The toroidal hull provides ample room around the periphery of the hanger area for habitation and divers can be logistically supported and monitored by mission command personnel in adjacent 1 atmosphere compartments. Because a portion of the vessel's crew lives at ambient pressure, the landed submersible may be serviced in a dry atmosphere. A man-size decompression chamber is provided intermediate a 1 atmosphere and ambient atmosphere chamber for transferring personnel according to recognized decompression schedules and a food air lock is provided whereby food may be passed to the crew living at ambient pressure from a 1 atmosphere galley compartment. The support vessel can be adapted to accommodate a manned submersible vehicle at a 1 atmosphere pressure, at an ambient atmosphere pressure or a combination of both.
Although the present invention has been described with a certain degree of particularity, it should be understood that the present disclosure has been made by way of example and that modifications and variations of the present invention are made possible in the light of the above teaching.