Richard Branson's Oceanic Expedition Put on Hold

Submarine exploration program stalled over safety concerns

Dec 16, 2014
Outside Magazine
virgin oceanic richard branson mariana trench submarine ocean exploration

Virgin Oceanic had planned to explore the Mariana Trench, the deepest part of the ocean.    Virgin Oceanic/YouTube

Richard Branson’s plan to build a submarine that could explore the deepest points in the ocean has been put on hold indefinitely, according to a report in the Telegraph.

The delay in Virgin’s ocean exploration plans comes on the heels of a high-profile hiccup in the Virgin Galactic commercial spaceflight program, which has been stalled since the death of one of its pilots during a test flight in October.

The submarine program, Virgin Oceanic, originally called for the creation of a submarine by 2012 that could explore the deep ocean, including the 36,000-foot-deep Mariana Trench. Branson intended to pilot some of the expeditions himself. After the initial trips, the company also planned to offer chances to pilot the submarine for approximately $500,000 per person.

Tests revealed that the submarine’s glass cockpit might be unable to withstand the pressure at the ocean’s deepest points. Also, objections were raised about Virgin’s plans to reuse the craft multiple times, which critics said might lead to damage to the submarine over time.

The company maintains that it intends to look into other options for ocean exploration, but the problems with the current submarine have led to an indefinite postponement. “We were not sure it [the current submarine design] would make it down,” said a spokesperson. “That project has been put on ice while we look at other technology that works.”