Undersea Station: Operational Financing

(update 31.05.2020: integrated article ‘event plan’; adding section ‘science (general)’, entertainment, space agencies; extended ad section; article under progress!)

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

The most professional underwater habitat so far is still the Aquarius habitat in Florida. This quality comes to a certain price of $1.2 to $3 million per year. Due to budget cuts, NOAA ceased funding Aquarius habitat after September 2012, with no further missions scheduled after a July 2012 mission, bringing the whole facility under risk. It took until January 2013 when a proposal to keep Aquarius running under Florida International University administration was accepted. What can we learn for future habitats and what could we do then to avoid sooner or later close-downs by lacks of financing?

Example ‘Aquarius Reef Base

Aquarius is a reef base with a zero incident history until 2009 when one of the technicians had a fatal accident. Until then the procedures of Aquarius proved perfectly well for nearly 20 years. Additionally there are statements in the internet claiming that disobeying of diving procedures rather than the procedures themselves are to be held responsible for the accident. Beside rules that divers have to obey, these procedures include long trainings, a huge number of support personnel and a big bunch of technical equipment leading to a high budget, which is generally justified to avoid risks carried by saturation environments.

On the other side mission participants are generally coming from universities or government agencies like NASA who are ready to pay a high price for their research. Recently Aquarius started to offer trainings and missions for civilians, but there are no information about the success of this new offer.

As a matter of fact Aquarius is a scientific laboratory on a stationary location and with an unchangeable size addressing scientific institutions only. This leads to the conclusion that the potential results of missions will be limited, and repeated missions of the same institution improbable, while the number of institutions ready to pay the high mission costs in the first place is low.

How can we make these parameters more variable in our project in order to maintain higher financial independence and how can we make it cheaper without making great concessions in terms of safety?

Probably the most significant proposal is the location of the habitat in the Mediterranean, right between Europe (including Russia), the Middle-East and Northern Africa. This location covers numerous countries, cultures and languages with their own scientific and cultural agendas. A habitat in the Mediterranean would be a premiere since all former stations were closed several years or even decades before. The right location would be the base for a successful operational income.

Event Plan

I might seem like obvious, but we have to plan a continuing event plan from the beginning and follow it as close as possible in order to keep attractiveness at hig levels and to maintain regular media coverage.

These attractions will follow a chronological program to maintain continuous popularity. That means that when an attraction reaches its half-time period another attraction should be already on its way as seen in the following graph:

event graph
As soon as the attention of an event reaches its half-time, it has to be replaced by a new one.

The popularity of each event consists of…

  • its beginning: the first announcement of the activity
  • its peak: the maximum point of popularity
  • its end: by reaching half-time period

We defined a growing list of possible activities with different popularity values and half-life periods:

  • Main Announcement of the station
  • Project ‘Explorer Probe’
  • Project ‘Hydrophone’
  • Project ‘Diver’s Bell’
  • Construction Report
  • Opening
  • Project ‘Culture Ark’
  • Project ‘Kauri’
  • Project ‘Underwater Arts Platform’
  • Project ‘Underwater Sculpture Exhibition’
  • Project ‘Coin Capsule’
  • Project ‘Live Conference’
  • Project ‘Surface Pool’
  • Project ‘Underwater Bike’
  • Project ‘Underwater Scooter’
  • Project ‘Live School Class’
  • Various Equipment Workshops, e.g. rebreather, full face masks etc.
  • Various activity workshops, e.g. free diving, moonwalk, monofin etc. with prominent trainers
  • Project ‘Coral Umbrella’

Potential Sectors

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.

This is the plan of keeping the project running once it is financed, built and put on position:

Oceanography

To get an overview over possible science missions in an underwater habitat please visit the overview of missions at Aquarius Reef Base 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]

We are always welcoming any suggestions for potential science programs. Please do not hesitate to add your proposals in the comment boxes below.

Underwater Archeology

The beginning of the project will be a mobile habitat. Like this it already attracts the attention of underwater archeologists as discussed with leading authorities in this sector, who expressed their interest. Underwater habitats were not used for underwater archeology yet, so the potential of them can only be estimated roughly, while the Mediterranean is the cradle of western civilization and therefore full of historical sites. The habitat and the support team can then be reserved for certain projects.

Space Agencies

Aquarius is also the center for the NEEMO missions of NASA, that “sends groups of astronauts, engineers and scientists to live in the underwater lab in Florida, the world’s only undersea research station, for up to three weeks at a time. The Aquarius habitat and its surroundings provide a convincing analog for space exploration.” To get a closer look on “Analog Mission” visit NASA’s corresponding website.

If we choose a location in the Mediterranean we have to note that there are several countries around with their own space and scientific programs. Surely there will be a certain demand for training missions in the habitat.

Image: crew of NEEMO 1; license: NOAA / Public domain; taken from Wikimedia Commons

Educational Institutions

Live classrooms: schools and universities will have the opportunity of reserving certain times to connect live from their classroom to the underwater habitat (as still done in Jules Undersea Lodge in Florida/USA). They will be able to send their own participants to remotely carry out customized experiments and goals carefully observed by the students at home. Since the first stages of the project aim to be located in a shallow depth it will also be accessible to students. Fees for these offers will be as low as possible in order to involve the most important group of people: the young generation, that is forming the future of this blue planet.

Long-duration missions will be possible in the second stage of the project. Very clear and safe procedures will have to be developed first.

Advertising

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. Some of our mission proposals will maintain high media coverage and therefore represent a high degree of advertisement internationally. The panels will be attached in such a way that they will be visible on most photos and videos.

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 different periods of time, e.g. 3, 6, 9, 12 months. Technically, the panel will be prepared, fixed on the habitat and removed in the end of the contract period. The price will vary according to the introduction of new components which are likely to attract special media coverage.

Minor ad panels: There will be several other panels on key locations inside the habitat.

Video coverage: Advertisers will also 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.

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 major period of the underwater habitat. (see corresponding articles on e2marketing.de and movie-college.de)

Tourism

The habitat will be open to recreational divers regularly. Therefore there will be a floating platform on the surface with glass bottom areas for “dry” clients (or companions of diving clients) and a swimming boundary on the surface from where snorkelers can watch the habitat and the activities around it. Freedivers will be able to approach the habitat and the surrounding underwater park, while being caught on photos and videos on request. Vicinity Divers will be able to book dives around the habitat, while Habitat Visitors even enter it for a short visit within the non-decompression time. For these entering visits there will be special trainings included in the price and they require appropriate certification and experience.  All these offers will be very affordable in means of time and cost.

Later there will be a possibility to enter the habitat for longer stays as Aquanauts. This  exposure to saturation conditions will require a certain training and diving experience as well as extensive safety measures. Demands, costs and risks have to be evaluated.

Visitors will have the possibility to visit the land station, where they can have a live conversation with aquanauts in the habitat or join courses in the workshop concerning environmental protection, marine biology, habitat history or just specialty certifications. A small number of merchandising products will be available as well. Or they can only enjoy some beverages while observing the mission control via viewport.

The undersea habitat will be  a very attractive highlight for any touristic region. By representing readiness for innovation, dedication, technology and environmental awareness, it has a huge effect on advertising and brand value. The Ithaa Undersea Restaurant of Conrad Hotels on the Maldives costed $5 million in construction. It is unlikely that the restaurant itself returns this amount directly, while the value for the company is priceless. As for our habitat it must be stated, that the volume of touristic activities will probably not be enough to return the initial costs, though it will play a major role in covering the daily expenses.

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

Consequently potential investors for touristic purposes are hotel chains, travel agencies, regional administrations or government institutions like ministries for tourism.

Entertainment

© CalamarPark (Benjamin Kuch)

In 2007 several participants of an italian game show called Progetto Abissi spent several days in a small group of underwater habitats.  Periods with similar events could support the daily overturn and help to keep up attention for the project. Another proposal was the regular invitation of persons of public interest and the corresponding media coverage. Of course, safety guidelines have to be obeyed at any time.

About this article

This post is still in progress. If you have any suggestion please feel free to register and share it via the comment field.

Intro image (coin piles): Von pixabay free images – https://pixabay.com/photos/money-money-tower-coins-euro-2180330/, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=88247655

Still to be added:

  • development of technology for extreme environments, robotics.
  • annual costs for the associated diving center
  • equipment replacement fund (10% annual)
  • calculation: short introduction and linked spread sheet
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