Ocean-based R&D for Space

The scale, complexity, risk, and difficulty of conducting ocean-based R&D for science, energy, and general exploration, can lay the groundwork for space.

A closeup of ocean technologies for deep exploration.
“R&D in the Oceans for Space” by Monica Hernandez. May 2023.

Having access to the oceans 🌊🌊 has been the default for a significant part of my life. Its silvery beauty has always inspired me, but its fury can be humbling. The confirmed tragic implosion of the Titan submersible cost the lives of five people on board, reminding us how extreme and unforgiving the deep can be. As a result of this recent catastrophe, the news coverage and conversations about ocean-based research, development, innovation, and exploration have been more extensive these past few days, focusing on safety concerns, risks, and materials for ship design.

However, there’s more cross-pollination between the dangers and complexities of ocean research, exploration, and space than one thinks. I’ve been looking at how oceanography (ocean science) can prepare us to live and explore in space. The scale and difficulty of conducting ocean-based R&D for science, energy, and exploration can lay the groundwork for our pursuit of a life in space. I set out to do a high-level overview of some of the advances that have caught my attention thus far.

Space Organizations and Oceanographic Research

The search for evidence of water, including subsurface and primordial oceans, has driven decades of space research and exploration to the furthest locations in the Solar System. Per the frequency of news releases, space agencies have been increasingly collaborating with oceanographic research institutes for the past few years. The NASA Roadmap to Ocean Worlds identified scientific priorities for oceans confirmed in Saturn’s moons, Enceladus and Titan, and Jupiter’s Europa. A vital component of this roadmap is the collaboration with Earth’s ocean sciences and analog studies. NASA has also organized the Network for Ocean Worlds (NOW) with the Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution to study geophysics, life, and systems on Earth’s oceans and beyond. The NOW network will include the five-year, $7.6 million Exploring Ocean Worlds (ExOW) project to search for biosignatures and potential life. In addition, the European Space Agency’s Ocean Science Cluster, launched in November 2019, comprises several Earth-observation satellites, projects, and space-tech-derived applications for ocean research.