Undersea Station: Initial Financing

(Updated 30.08.2020; added section Research on Medicals from the Marine Environment)

IMPORTANT NOTE: This article is similar but not identical to Operational Financing. For information on the other matter please visit the corresponding article.

In the past years we have seen that it is very difficult to attract investors for the initial building of even a small habitat. In the beginning we concentrated on scientific institutions who always were very interested, but not able to lift the initial costs. Before we start to calculate the initial costs we should define the sectors of potential application, rethink the habitat design to cover the demands of as many of these sectors and then refine the initial costs.

At the same time this article may also be used as a guide for potential investors to get inspired about how to benefit from an underwater habitat.

Regardless of the type of use, safety is the top priority. This means that even for tourist, private or entertainment use, certain limits remain. An underwater station is a facility in an extreme environment where clear rules must be followed and any move towards an amusement park where these rules are to be lifted is not welcome.

It should be taken to account that an underwater habitat might serve several different sectors at the same time, e.g. tourism and marine science and education. Therefore, interested financers should consider a co-funding with several partners.

The initial investment granted by one ore more parties at the same time will be calculated to cover at least one year of operation consisting of each a six months construction and operation period. Any funding for further operation (see chapter operational financing) will be recalculated.

Potential Partner Sectors

Marine Sciences / Oceanography

Scientific institutions are still first choice since an underwater laboratory meets their field of interest. Educational institutions would receive a laboratory in the most unusual location and environment. They will be able to conduct trainings in oceanography, biology and engineering at the land base, around the habitat and inside the habitat. They will be able to broadcast from their missions to other team members live over the internet, and let them join interactively. Participants from several countries will be able to visit the location, boosting the brand of the connected research institution.

According to the investment they will be able to use designated panels on the outer shell and certain interior areas as well as participant uniforms for placing their logos and use them for advertising purposes. Some of our mission proposals will maintain high media coverage and therefore represent a high degree of advertisement internationally.

In return we would offer beside the main habitat a smaller habitat that can be positioned in other locations. It could operate separately or keeping in touch with the main habitat and the institution live online.

While the habitat will be accessible for other participants when it is not used by the institution, the modular concept of the main habitat allows extensions according to different requirements only accessible for members of the institution. Therefore it will be possible to add other modules to the main body. Each module will contain a corridor to reach every part of the structure without to be forced to pass each room.

An overview of missions at Aquarius Reef Base is available on the webpage of Florida International University > Past Missions as well as a reference pricelist for missions onboard Aquarius.

[ [Für deutschsprachige  Interessenten haben wir in dem Artikel der Aquarius Reef Base auf Wikipedia eine Liste bisheriger Missionen zusammengestellt]

Advertisers

Companies of any sector who want to support a thrilling project like an undersea habitation to advertise will be able to use ad panels on the outer shell and certain interior areas as well as participant uniforms for placing their logos. The habitat name might be something like ‘The Fisher Steel Habitat‘ or ‘Smith Insurance Station‘ for the duration of the contract. The panels will be attached in such a way that they will be visible on most photos and videos. Coverage will start during construction and continue during positioning and operation, before transition of maintaining operational financing.

Main ad panel: On the outer shell of any module a replaceable panel will be installed. Advertisers will be able to rent that panel for the initial phase of twelve months. Technically, the panel will be prepared, fixed on the habitat and removed in the end of the contract period.

Minor ad panels: There will be several other panels on key locations inside the habitat. The size and rates of the single ad areas will be standardized. Advertisers will be able to rent several of these areas.

Video coverage: Advertisers will also be appear in the screen credits of internal video productions. External requests for video shootings will not contain the sponsors logo, but will be charged differently and therefore contribute their part on daily turnover.

Uniforms: Logos of advertisers can be placed on the uniforms of our internal staff like technicians, officers, land operators etc.. Of course, we can not force external missions to do the same.

For educational institutions there might be the additional possibility of more affordable rates for minor ad areas in order to support the educational system.

The advertisement areas might also be shared by more than one advertiser, which reduces the costs per company. The initial investment will be calculated to cover at least one year of operation consisting of each a six months construction and operation period. Any funding for further operation (see operational financing) will be recalculated.

In comparison the costs of 30 seconds advertisement in an average German TV channel on an average evening hour are about 40.000 €. The price of 2,5 minutes would be enough to finance a vital part of the underwater habitat. (see corresponding articles on e2marketing.de and movie-college.de)

Underwater Archeology

Underwater archeology is a permanently underfunded sector. Generally studies take place in shallow waters with standard tank diving, ROV’s or submersibles. While the number of tank dives per diver as well as the length of single dives is strictly limited and ROVs do not replace human presence, submersibles do not provide a possibility to enter the surrounding ocean. Talks of the potential of underwater habitation for underwater archeology between us and senior archeologists showed, that there is a certain need for a mobile habitat deployable for depth up to 20m resulting to excursion depths of 35m. Operations like that would allow several dives per day with long bottom times. Habitat missions would have a great impact on …

  • the mission results (higher number of longer dives)
  • its outreach to the public (by attracting media)
  • the sector itself
  • funding for future missions.

Environmental Protection

An underwater habitat is a very suitable medium to make conservation messages heard. Corresponding missions have already been carried out several times in the Aquarius Habitat. There is no doubt that the world oceans need special protection. In order to get a larger audience for such actions, well-known personalities could spend some time in the Habitat and draw attention to the state of the world’s oceans from there. In addition, new ideas, concepts and technologies could be tested in order to take measures against existing damage. Examples would be material tests for artificial reefs and their acceptance by marine life. Another project under the heading “Benthic Tree Farm” is in preparation. Environmental projects would have the opportunity to co-finance the habitat and reserve the most effective initial period of the structure.

Private Supporters

As a private supporter you will be part of a spectacular project that aims to provide a platform, that in the future might lead to settle human beings on the ocean floor. The volume of the initial project is absolutely variable. Since the concepts contain modularity as a main feature, each module can be subdivided according to the available funding. The minimum amount for a first project still has to be calculated, but it seems like being around 150.000 € for a small habitat, that will act as a development platform (e.g. for docking techniques) and as an attractor for further investments. It will be a mobile habitat to be used in different environments and later be fully integrated in the following main structure.

Later there will be a possibility to rent a complete room inside the habitat for private purposes like a laboratory or hideaway. Except the technical staff and official controls nobody will be able to enter that room.

Tourism

Tourism has always been forced to stand out from the crowd and create new attractions. Many of these attractions were not intended from the outset to amortize their own expenses, but rather to act as a magnet for new customers. A good example of this is the underwater restaurant Ithaa.

Ithaa is located in Conrad Maldives Rangali Island in the Alif Dhaal Atoll in the Republic of Maldives and consists of a platform of 9m length and 5m width, which is completely covered with an arch of acrylic glass. It contains a restaurant for 14 persons, which can be reached via a staircase from a jetty. The costs for this project amounted to 5 million dollars in 2004. Even with food prices of 200 dollars per person, 25,000 paying guests would be necessary to amortize the costs. This would mean that the facility would be fully booked twice a day for 892 days; this does not include the running costs for personnel and food, which are about 30% of the sales price. The estimated life span of the restaurant is 20 years.

Ithaa (ende)

(Image: Alexey Potov – Noblige – Taken by Alexey Potov – Noblige, CC BY-SA 2.5, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=20228684)

The intention of such an investment is clear: apart from the direct income from daily operations, which recoups a certain part of the investment, the gain in attractiveness for the hotel complex cannot be measured. There is no doubt, however, that Ithaa made the hotel known worldwide and provided a reason for choosing the hotel complex as a holiday destination. It is worth noting that classical advertising with a budget of 5 million dollars would certainly have generated less response and would have been much more short-dated.
By the way, the habitats proposed by CalamarPark can be realized for much less investment, but it should be noted, that longer stays inside the habitat require extended trial periods before. Until then short visits will be possible.

Entertainment

The Italian Progetto Abissi, also known as La Casa in Fondo al Mare (Italian for The House Under the Sea) by the diving club Explorer Team Pellicano, consisted of 3 cylindrical habitats and served as a platform for a TV game show. It took place for the first time in September 2005 for 10 days. In 2007, 6 aquanauts lived in the complex for 14 days.

It is possible to use an underwater habitat specifically for entertainment purposes, or to reserve certain periods of time for this purpose. New concepts like reality shows, serials, music videos etc. are still to be discussed. However, it should be clear from the outset that no compromises can be made in terms of safety.

Space Agency Trainings

NEEMO, an acronym for NASA Extreme Environment Mission Operations, is a NASA analog mission that sends groups of astronauts, engineers and scientists to live in Aquarius underwater laboratory, the world’s only undersea research station, for up to three weeks at a time in preparation for future space exploration. ( en/de)introductiintroducti

Especially after the announcement to return to the moon and establish a permanent settlement, there will be a growing need for training facilities. It should be noted that although many countries have an aerospace agency, they have so far only participated in space missions to a limited extent. Other agencies, such as ESA, are limited to facilities outside their sphere of influence.

An underwater habitat would be a suitable instrument for these countries to train their own personnel and test technologies. A co-solution would make it possible to reduce initial costs and still have access to the habitat for certain periods of time.

Education

It is conceivable that one or more universities could jointly finance an underwater habitat and use it in different destinations for purposes such as underwater archaeology or marine sciences, depending on demand. Future scientists can be trained there and new technologies can be tested. Live connections to the individual institutes ensure that the project is more closely integrated with larger teams on land. The habitat would increase the visibility of the institute and would certainly become an important tool for various objectives. The benefits of a larger permanent station should not be underestimated.

Research on Medicals from the Marine Environment

The advantages of an underwater habitat for the search of new medical products from the marine environment are still to be evaluated.

Crowdfunding

Crowdfunding sounds like an easy solution for getting the initial financing, until you have a look at the statistic below.  (for all non-germanophones:) As you can see technology projects are on the third place after games (!) and design projects in terms of collected amounts. Still a very promising number.

But on the right you can see the percentage of successful projects stating that only 20% of technology projects were actually successful, which is the worst result of all sectors.

Quelle: © FAZ.NET / Statista – Lizenz: CC BY-ND

So, this is the problem: even the most simple undersea station is costy, at least more costy than a painting exhibition.  With higher amounts the probability of collecting enough drops. To get the best result we have to promote the camapign and focus all interested people and our entire network to the campaign. If this campaign fails by not generating enough money we might lose participants and credibility.

See as an example the SeaOrbiter project of Jacques Rougerie. The probability to get this great concept financed is low. What he did (and what we try to do, too) is to divide the constuction into modules and offer them for example to the crowdfunding community. The campaign to construct the ‘eye of SeaOrbiter’ generated 345.000 € (!) in 2015, 6% more than the targeted amount, and covered the construction of the shell of that module, which awaits next steps ever since. Not to be misunderstood: it is a great project and we really hope that it will be finished one day, but if the shell of a small module takes years to be funded, how long takes the complete construction then? While the ‘eye of SeaOrbiter’ is not usable alone we have to target from the beginning a small module, which is completely implementable into the end concept, but also usable as a stand-alone module, similar to the International Space Station (ISS).

So here is what we have to do before turning to crowdfunding:

  • Split the concept into the smallest full functioning module
  • Keep the price as low as possible
  • Try to attract and include as many sectors as possible
  • Find out the probability of being successful
  • WAIT (!) until the probability is high enough
  • Create a convincing presentation
  • Agree on the best date to start the campaign
  • Do it!

Calculation

(reserved; short introduction and spread sheet including all details)

financing an undersea station

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