Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Back in the water!

Cousteau the hamsternaut is now submerged once again, and will live beneath the waves until the 7th of January.

Wednesday, December 2, 2015

To the surface for a week!

Cousteau has been returned to his surface habitat where he will max and relax for a week before his next 1 month submersion. Sorry about the down time of the webcam, it's interfering with my net access, will take a while to get that sorted out.

Saturday, November 14, 2015

Back in the water

As of 6pm, Cousteau the intrepid hamsternaut is back in the cleaned, resupplied Hambase Alpha for another one month of underwater hamster shenanigans. :3

Friday, November 6, 2015

Hambro 1 week vacation time

Removing the little guy from his underwater home for some surface R&R while I clean and resupply the habitat. Will be back underwater with the stream going again sometime late Sunday (the 15th).

Edit: He's topside now, wrigglin around in my hand as I try to take his fuckin picture. I feel like I should prepare little post-mission medals for him but he'd just eat/wreck them all.

Friday, October 30, 2015

Ruminations on underwater habitat design

As an interesting benefit of building these things, I've learned a number of lessons I feel are applicable to future human habitats.

The first has to do with cleaning. The way we normally deal with garbage and accumulated grime assumes we can move freely between the inside and outside of a structure. You cannot do that underwater. I solve the problem by bringing the habitat up monthly to wash and scrub the interior, to replace the litter, replenish food/water, etc.

Can't do that with a human sized habitat. You need some specialized module set aside just for compacting garbage, storing cleaning supplies, rinsing out mops/sponges and processing the resulting grey water. Docked to this module you'll need a smaller secondary one which can seal, detatch and be raised to the surface.

The idea is, everybody in the colony would deliver gathered trash from their residential module to the waste management module, have it compacted, then stored in the detatchable pod. Once a month or so that pod is un-docked, surfaced and either emptied onto a barge or towed to shore for the trash to be removed and dealt with.

Stored biowaste is simpler as it can be pumped out of the colony's central septic tank into the tank of the same ship which carries the garbage module to shore, same way you empty the septic tank of a sailboat or RV.

The important thing is that the specialized waste management module be sealed off from the rest of the colony by a moisture and scent barrier. Something as simple as flimsy but airtight sliding doors, with a powerful air filtration system treating the air inside, like the one you have in your bathroom. This is because in an enclosed environment with recirculated atmosphere, even a small degree of stench buildup is a lot more noticeable.

Such barriers to the free movement of air were introduced after Sealab II to prevent humidity from spreading from the moon pool/wet porch room into the living space. This solved massive recurring problems like chronic ear infections, rashes, etc. relating to the unbearably high humidity. The simple addition of a divider wall and air tight door, plus a dehumidifier in the living area made conditions vastly more comfortable for the aquanauts.

Another issue is the bubble exhaust. If ambient pressure, the main escape for bubbles will be through the moon pool. Either as loud, reverberating "burps" if it escapes the moon pool conventionally or as a quiet, neat "plume" if you manage where/how air escapes. The best way I have seen to do this is to have an outlet built into the moon pool at the exact height where you want the water level to be.

This outlet leads, through a hose, to a "bubble chimney" mounted to the side of the structure. This ensures that as air builds up inside the structure, when it pushes the water in the moon pool far enough down, it escapes through that outlet rather than through the bottom of the moon pool. Conshelf 2 had this but for some stupid reason Aquarius and many other newer habitats neglected to include one.

Next: I have for some time been meaning to get my hands on a dredge pump. I speculate that sand from the bottom could be suctioned up this way and deposited into the empty ballast tray of a habitat you mean to sink.

Securing ballast weight in this manner, "in situ" from the spot where you mean to sink the habitat would wipe out the considerable expenses involved in buying tons and tons of pig iron or lead ballast weight, moving it over land to the coast, ferrying it out by ship, then shoveling it by hand into the ballast tray of the habitat. This is, again, an unexpectedly huge percentage of the cost of underwater habitats in general.

Lastly, modern habitats like Aquarius are designed to operate also as decompression chambers, so aquanauts can decompress inside at the end of their mission and surface without need of a diving bell and deckside decompression chamber. This is brilliant but costly. An ambient pressure habitat can be as simple as a welded steel box, since it only needs to be strong enough to hold down the trapped air.

A 1atm habitat you intend to decompress in, however, must be a cylindrical or spherical pressure vessel of considerably greater hull thickness depending on depth. It also constrains how large windows can be.

I propose an alternative: Instead of the entire habitat being a decompression chamber, make 90% of it cheaper ambient pressure only living space, but integrate a single decompression module just large enough for the crew to sleep in with stacked bunks. This would be about one quarter of Aquarius' internal volume.

Ideally, the other side of this module is a docking collar for the submersible they will travel to the surface with so they can move from the decompressed 1atm environment of the chamber into the 1atm environment of the sub without having to re-acclimate to the ambient pressure environment of the habitat in order to get to the moon pool, as Aquarius aquanauts must do (it's not easy on the eardrums.)

Minimizing the portion of the habitat that you can decompress in greatly decreases overall cost, and opens up interesting new possibilities. Ambient pressure habitat space is way more fault tolerant, because it doesn't need to resist any pressure differential. You don't need a precisely machined steel cylinder. You just need welded sheet metal boxes with some reinforcement against buoyancy stress.

This means you could employ underwater welders to actually build expanded habitat space onto an existing mostly-ambient habitat, while underwater. As opposed to building the complete habitat on land, towing it out (or transporting via A-frame ship) and sinking it.

The traditional method of constructing modules on land and sinking them limits you to ISS style modular expansion, one pitifully small cylinder at a time. Instead, structures could be built on-site from loads of materials lowered from the surface, closer to how traditional buildings are constructed.

You'd still build them with ballast containers but could fill them on the bottom by shoveling in sand from the sea bed. Driving pilings into the seafloor and securing it to those is also a possibility with this method.

Once the addition is complete, you'd pump air in to displace the seawater, cut a doorway into it from inside the existing dry habitat space, then set about hosing it down with fresh water (to get rid of the salt) and drying it off with towels and sponges. The dehumidifiers would also help. An Italian diving club established a small model colony consisting of four cylindrical 2 person habitats in a similar fashion.

They did not construct them on the seabed, but did allow them to fill with seawater (without electronics or furniture inside) so they would sink easily. Then secured them to ballast containers, shoveled sand into those, then pumped the habitats full of air and cleaned the salt water out of the interiors. After this, the crew ferried down loads of materials in water tight sacks to slowly build out the liveable interior like a ship in a bottle.

If we're ever to see truly large undersea habitats, they have to be ambient pressure because saturation diving is the only thing you actually need to put humans underwater for that can generate a profit or be of scientific use (facilitating sea farming or coral research for example).

But by minimizing the amount of the habitat built to the spec needed for decompression, making most of it the lower spec ambient only (like Aquarius' wet porch, a simple sheet metal cube) and employing the other methods listed so far, the price can be brought down to where permanent sea floor settlements in support of science or mariculture become economically attractive.

Friday, October 23, 2015

Remaining hurdles for Hambase Delta (aka Mega Hab) construction

I've been asked this frequently and cannot seem to reply to comments (don't know why, I hit submit, page refreshes and there's nothing) so I'll answer it here.

The main thing left to do is inquire about the cost of cutting sheet lexan to the exact size needed for the window I plan to build into the enclosure lid. If Home Depot does this, awesome, it'll be done soon enough. If not, I know of several custom plastics websites that'll do it.

I have a lot on my plate right now but should get around to it before Christmas.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Hamcam now back online

Get it while it's hot. My ISP has been janky as hell recently, no telling how long it'll stay up. I'll keep trying to increase reliability. 

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Hambro vacation

Currently cleaning out and restocking the habitat, getting ready for another one month submersion. So the stream will be down for the next few days while Cousteau chills in his land base. :3

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Switching ISPs

In case anybody wondered why the stream is down.

EDIT: Stream's back up

EDIT: Ongoing troubles. It may or may not be up when you look. Trying to sort it out

Monday, September 7, 2015

HamCam is back!

Found an old laptop I can't use for anything but basic stuff, so I set it up with a webcam to stream the aquarium. This time it should be permanent, as I don't need the laptop for anything else. URL: www.ustream.tv/channel/madsci9001

Friday, September 4, 2015

Work nears completion on Lloyd Godson's newest undersea habitat.

You may or may not know Lloyd Godson as the guy behind Biosub 1 and 2. The first, a simple steel box weighed down by concrete blocks, submerged 15 feet deep in a flooded quarry. The second a much slicker looking but still rectilinear enclosure, this time with windows, submerged 12 feet deep in Legoland Aquarium for two weeks. 

This time he's gone with a much more attractive, sort of geodesic looking egg with windows spiraling up the hull from two points like a double helix. Although it has legs for transport purposes it will in fact dangle from a floating surface platform (where the air compressor will be) by cables, much like a diving bell. 

I've spoken with Lloyd about his plans for the habitat. He assures me it will not simply be torn apart for scrap like nearly every habitat before it, rather he's made arrangements for it to find other uses after his one month underwater mission in it has completed. No such plans were made for prior habitats, which is why so few remain in existence. 

The conditions inside are certainly austere, but there's room for a cot, a marine toilet, a microwave and mini fridge, and other basic amenities. I expect the experience will be quite like caravan camping. This is about the best I could hope to one day build for myself, even this much living space will cost tens of thousands at least. 

One of the neat things I could do with a micro habitat like this one would be to carry out Hampture at a much greater depth than otherwise possible. You see, the air sent down to the habitat at a moon pool depth of 21 feet could then be sent from inside the habitat, using the standard aquarium air compressors I use, out via tubing through the moon pool to Hampture. 

Because the air those aquarium compressors recieve is pre-compressed, the fact that Hampture would be at ~25 feet or so makes no difference, it just has to be less than 8 feet deeper than the moon pool of the habitat. I could then use the habitat as dry space within which to surface individual modules of hampture for cleaning and resupply without having to bring them to the actual surface. 

Thursday, September 3, 2015

Ballast containers arrive

WHOOF these things are heavy with the weights loaded into 'em. Just one weighs as much as the total ballast weight of Hambase Alpha. I've been lifting weights for the past three years, in part because a lot of my projects involve underwater stuff, which means having to lift diving weights and I wanted it to become easier. It's still heavy as shit, any more would be painful/dangerous.

They exactly match the footprint of the enclosure. I suspected they would but that assumed the new containers were precise copies of the Otterbox 3500 in terms of dimensions. They are, so it'll look nice and elegant. Also the weigh distribution will be balanced, which will make it easier to carry than it otherwise would've been.

Now I need to figure out how I'm gonna add a window to the lid without destroying it. I dunno what kinda plastic it is, whether I can drill it without it cracking, etc. A cheaper source for this model of enclosure has appeared since I bought the last one so I am not as worried if something should go wrong, except that you guys spent money on it, so I'd rather not fuck it up.

I may find out if somebody at Home Depot can custom cut a larger piece of lexan for me, otherwise the window won't take up the full lid. That'd look a little wonky. So I'm definitely gonna go for the full lid window first, and only settle for the smaller window if I absolutely have to.

Because this is right on the limit of what I can carry, I will never build a larger single module than this. It would require a crane, a boat trailer (which I'd have to build the damn thing on top of, then use temporary floats to move it on the water) or some similar method in order to transport and deploy it. Mega Hab is as big as it gets while still being man portable.

Maybe the answer is that if ever I get the chance to build a whole city of these things like I want to, there'd be just one or a handful of Mega Habs (as community centers/shared space) while most of the modules would be copies of the smaller Hambase Alpha (for individual nesting areas)

Btw, big thanks to two generous donors in particular who pitched in for the ballast containers. That's hugely appreciated and really helps accelerate this project.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Imagine if Hampture were done here

It'd be in the actual god damn ocean (with nice clear water!) but shallow enough and calm enough because the land buffers it from the rest of the sea. There's immediately nearby access to grid power for the air compressors, heaters and so forth. Wish I knew somebody in a situation like this who could take this project off my hands and continue it once Mega Hab is built.

The plan right now is to take Mega Hab with me up to Minnesota next Summer. When time and money permit I vacation in the family cabin up there on Lake Vermillion. The visibility is poor (loads of algae) but the water's deep and there's access to grid power from the cabin. I'd be able to do a 2-3 week mission and get some good footage of it.

If I can pull that off it'll be really neat. Mega Hab won't fit in the aquarium, it pretty much has to go in a natural body of water. But that's the direction I've been wanting to take this project anyway. The last time I did that was with the Mark 3 habitat, which I scrapped due to being designed in a way that made it a huge pain in the ass to move around, and the pond I put it in had no grid power so I had to run everything overnight from a big battery pack.

At some point, somehow, if I'm gonna "go big" with this project and construct a large interconnected city I need to be in a place in my life where I'm living right next to a clear body of water full time. Or I need to find somebody who already is that's willing to take the torch from me, preferably someone in Oregon. Otherwise Mega Hab will only ever be used a few times, and besides that, Hampture will never be any larger or more ambitious than what I've already got going on in the fish tank. 

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Ballast containers for mega hab purchased

The Otterbox 3500 isn't made anymore, but luckily it's a fairly standard size/shape of drybox, so I was able to find an off brand equivalent. Three of them set me back $52 but a much appreciated $20 donation put a sizable dent in that.
This means work can finally continue on the mega hab! Once the ballast containers are attached I can add the heater pad (already bought) then the air inlet and tubing, then I suppose I'll have to figure out what to do about the opaque lid. A window most likely, unless I can find somebody with the transparent lid version to trade with. 

Monday, August 24, 2015

New Aquarius mission begins today.

The Navy is using it this time, not sure what for. As always, watch live by clicking this link and choosing which camera you want. 

More grass

Still going strong, now starting to reach up into the dome. I don't think it gets much taller? I hope not, the package said it's not supposed to. Anyway this has been a huge success. This species of grass really likes these conditions, I'm gonna see how long I can keep it going by sending water down with some fertilizer mixed in at some point. The goal being for it to be able to permanently stay submerged.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Rapid growth

The grass is really taking to the enclosed, underwater conditions much better than the sunflower sprouts did. Not surprising in hindsight. Glad greenhab is finally green, it's really lush in there.

Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Grass sprouts

So much for "slow growing", this stuff really shoots up before you know it. Hopefully it'll fare better.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Grass planted

Got some seeds for that slow-growing grass that doesn't get very tall (so you don't have to mow it) from a garden store, should be ideal for greenhab. Will post pics when it sprouts.

Sunday, August 2, 2015

More plant stuff

The initial sprouts died. Not sure why but I put it down to excessive heat. Heat pads in the Summer were probably a bad idea. So I planted some new seeds and have left the heater off.

The results appear more promising and as a bonus, with the heaters off, condensation doesn't collect on the sides, making it much easier to see inside. Sorry bout the quality, can't take a clear picture of it for some reason:

Thursday, July 2, 2015

Nemo's Garden

"Just off the coast of Noli, Italy, tethered twenty feet below the surface of the Mediterranean Sea, hover five bulbous biospheres filled with plants, light, and warm, wet air.
The underwater greenhouses make up Nemo’s Garden, an experimental agricultural project, now in its fourth year, operated by a company that specializes in diving equipment."

Man what the fuck. What even.  No sooner than I'd finished greenhab, some Italians are doing the exact same thing but way bigger and better. Their reasoning for growing terrestrial plants underwater is much the same as mine:

"The balloon-like biospheres take advantage of the sea’s natural properties to grow plants. The underwater temperatures are constant, and the shape of the greenhouses allows for water to constantly evaporate and replenish the plants. What’s more, the high amounts of carbon dioxide act like steroids for the plants, making them grow at very rapid rates.
Ocean Reef Group — a diving equipment company — is monitoring five balloon-like biospheres that house a number of plants, such as basil, lettuce, strawberries and beans. The group has a patent on the structure and plans to build a few more to experiment with other crops, such as mushrooms, which should thrive in the humid environment.

Sergio Gamberini, president of Ocean Reef Group, came up with the “crazy” idea of growing plants under the sea while on a summer vacation in Italy. He immediately made a few calls and started experimenting, sinking the transparent biospheres under the ocean and filling them with air."

Their habitat design is the same one I had in mind for Hamlantis (right). Easy to emplace as you only fill them with air once they're already down there and secured, you can use buckets of sand from the seafloor as ballast, and you can get inside from the waist up to clean cages and resupply food/water.

Update: Check out the livestream here and literally sit around watching plants grow

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Greenhab is humid

That's good! Plants love warm, humid conditions. At least the ones I'll be growing. I had in fact cultivated some seedlings in anticipation and have now transplanted them into the soil of greenhab. It was really rewarding to see the water injection system working for the first time. Depress the plunger up by the compressor, then inside the habitat a moment later there's a brief spray of water. 

While there's condensation (which is weird to see underwater) it means there's enough moisture in the habitat for the time being. The constant throughput of dry air eventually carries it all away, at which point the condensation vanishes, my cue to inject more water. I didn't think doing this with plants would be so interesting, but it already is.

One possible implication is that in any hypothetical undersea colony, the plants and humans should be kept in separate habitats, or the module with plants should be separated from the rest with a humidity barrier as ideal conditions for plants differ greatly from ideal conditions for humans. 

Saturday, June 20, 2015

Greenhab 2.0 complete and in the water

Cousteau's there in the back, thoughtfully nomming some corms. Greenhab 2 is all put together, the holdup was waiting on lead shot ballast in the mail. It's great stuff as it'll conform to the shape of whatever ballast container you're using and opens up a lot of possibilities in terms of hab design.

No soil or plants yet, I'll do that tomorrow. Then post pics once there's something green in there to look at. Having trouble with algae in the water again, despite regular use of an algaecide. The warm weather's to blame. I also feel as if I'm just now getting back to where I was with the project in 2013.

I expanded too fast without an idea of where I was going with it. The half assed Greenhab 1.0 was a symptom of that. Now that the new one is properly set up for plants (and permanent use) my focus will be on finishing the really big habitat.

I have all the weights for it (Twelve 5lb block weights for a total of 60lbs) just need ballast containers now. Nobody seems to have the Otterbox line in stock anymore so I'll have to identify a similarly proportioned replacement.

After that I gotta add the window to the lid (because the only model of that drybox still being sold has an opaque lid for some reason). Everything else is easily taken care of. The big hab won't fit in the aquarium, by the by. You wanted big, you got big. But it will need to be emplaced in a pond or lake. Not sure what I'm gonna do about that. 

Friday, May 29, 2015

Greenhab 2.0: Watering mechanism

In the process of rebuilding Greenhab (the first was destroyed when I tried to use the dishwasher to clean it, only for it to partially melt) I decided I don't want it to be a single use gimmick. I want it to really work, and be able to stay down permanently.

Two problems with the last one: 1. too cold, and 2. no way to water the plants without bringing it up. I solved 1 by adding resistive heater pads.

They may or may not be too warm, if so I can add an inline potentiometer to throttle how much current they receive. I thought I'd solve 2 by adding a second tube just for water.

But, I hate adding extra surface connections, Quickly becomes an ugly, unmanageable tangle. Instead, I've worked out that I can simply inject water into the existing airline, letting the compressor push it down to the plants. This means Greenhab 2.0 will never need to be resurfaced.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Scratch that last post, Aqua Bubble is lost

Could swear I'd seen it recently but after several days of searching I just can't put my hands on it. That's a shame. Currently in the process of building a new greenhab after the dishwasher partially melted the last one, so hopefully I'll have something new to show soon.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Summer mini-expeditions

As I've not been able to afford to do much work towards completing the really big habitat, and the weather outside is getting nice and warm, I thought I'd do some short term stuff in natural bodies of water.

There are some ponds, lakes, and creeks nearby. Some even have reasonably clear water. My thinking was to take the battery backup air compressor, a length of air hose and the aqua bubble. Then emplace it on the bottom for 10-15 minutes at a time, running the compressor off its internal battery.

I would of course film this from underwater. I'm expecting it to be neato to finally get some decent footage of the aquabubble somewhere other than the aquarium. More to come.