FALCON FOR OCEAN RESEARCH
A Saab Seaeye Falcon electric underwater robotic vehicle is to help support a network of oceanographic and atmospheric sensors that are part of the Ocean Observatories Initiative (OOI) transforming ocean research.
Falcon fitted with multi-function manipulator in test tank.
(Photo by Collin Dobson, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution)
Funded by the National Science Foundation, the overall OOI program is managed by Massachusetts based Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution. The moored, mobile autonomous, and cabled sensors provide real-time data access to address critical issues such as climate change, ecosystem variability, ocean acidification, and carbon cycling. The observatory consists of:
The Coastal & Global Scale Nodes (CGSN) which include sensor arrays moored off the coast of Massachusetts, Alaska, and Greenland, operated by the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution,
The Endurance Array (EA) off the coast of Oregon and Washington, operated by Oregon State University,
The Regional Cabled Array (RCA), a submarine cable network of sensors and instruments, operated and managed by the University of Washington,
As well as the Cyber infrastructure, managed by Rutgers, The State University of New Jersey.
Locations of the Coastal, Global and Cabled Arrays that are part of the NSF-funded Ocean Observatories Initiative.
(Illustration by U. Washington Center for Environmental Visualization, modified by WHOI Creative)
After deploying a third party ROV for several years it was concluded that a dedicated underwater robotic vehicle could be a significant addition to the suite of tools available to the program and provide operational flexibility, as well as scheduling and budget optimisation.
The Falcon, already the most successful vehicle of its class in the world, won a competitive contract against multiple vendors.
It met the general requirements for a vehicle that can operate in 450m of water, with a 1000m option, has a multi-function manipulator arm and navigation system, and can work from either a dynamic positioning, or non-dynamic positioning vessel.
A 1100m umbilical cable run will not only allow the Falcon to operate from a non-dynamic positioning vessel, but allows multiple re-termination before needing replacement.
The Falcon will conduct operations in support of mooring deployments and recoveries. This will include inspections of instruments and mooring systems, as well as attaching rigging or unfouling instruments to allow recovery of assets.
Best overall capabilities
Derek Buffitt, the Coastal & Global Scale Node (CGSN) program manager, says the Saab Seaeye Falcon was selected because it provided the best overall capabilities, has a significant tooling and spares package and comes with training and support for new OOI operators. It also met the strict budget and delivery schedule required by the OOI and the National Science Foundation.
At-sea training was completed in March 2019, along with verification of mobilisation and demobilisation requirements, integration of navigational systems, and included operating the vehicle in currents and performing test recoveries of CGSN anchor types.