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James Cameron’s successful record-breaking descent of 11km to the bottom of the Mariana Trench in the 7.3 meter-long (24 feet) Deep Sea Challenger was completed earlier this year.
The expedition is the centrepiece of Deep Sea Challenge, a joint scientific project by Cameron, the National Geographic Society and Rolex to conduct deep-ocean research. To withstand the massive pressures at these extreme depths, Cameron and co-designer Ron Allum from Acheron Project, Sydney, consulted with structural engineering advisor, Phil Durbin from Finite Elements Australia, Tasmania for seven years.
According to ATL, one of the greatest challenges was designing and building the 5.8 m main section of the submersible, to withstand 16,500 psi / 114 MPa of sea pressure at the maximum depth. This main beam, the largest single component of the sub, was manufactured from a high strength syntactic foam called ISOFLOAT which was invented by Allum and Durbin, to provide both floatation and a strong structural core. ISOFLOAT, making up 70% of the submarines volume, is formed with millions of hollow glass microspheres suspended in KINETIX epoxy resin, custom formulated and manufactured by ATL Composites, Queensland.
“I’ve always dreamed of diving to the deepest place in the oceans. For me it went from a boyhood fantasy to a real quest,” James Cameron explained.
ATL explains that they were approached by Ron Allum who was seeking an epoxy system that could offer unique characteristics, including extremely high compressive strength. They say several multi-nationals had prescribed their best epoxy systems, but each failed prematurely, unable to meet the severe operating design requirements. ATL explain that their chemists were up to the challenge, and drawing on over 30 years of epoxy and formulation expertise, rapidly focused their laboratory efforts on chemicals and reactions that could achieve the critical engineering parameters. The result was a customised KINETIX epoxy formulation that exhibited outstanding compressive strength and impressive toughness.
ATL’s engineers and chemists also worked closely with Acheron, Finite Elements and McConaghy Boats, during the construction process, contributing to the development of various proprietary methods used in the epoxy bonding and manufacture of composite parts for the project.
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