In 2026, a crew of six fully-trained aquanauts will be deployed to a new marine habitat system, built by DEEP, beginning what promises to be the era of humanity’s continuous presence underwater.
Manufacturing of the ocean technology and exploration company (DEEP)’s first marine habitat, designated Sentinel, has already begun and, on 3 November 2026, they plan to deploy a crew of six fully trained “aquans” to their new home. DEEP hopes this will begin an era of humanity’s continuous presence underwater, an ambition that will mirror the achievements already made in outer space. DEEP’s technology will eventually allow people to live at depths of up to 200m (656 ft) for up to 28 days at a time – revolutionising the way scientists observe, monitor and understand the oceans.
Perhaps surprisingly, this first habitat will sit on the bottom of Dayhouse Quarry, which is located on the edge of the Forest of Dean in Gloucestershire, south-west England. The quarry is enclosed by 70m (230ft) tall, sheer cliffs, and the bright blue pool sinks to depths of 80m (260ft).
DEEP builds on evidence that humans can become more aquatic. The sea nomads of Indonesia, for example, have developed genetically enlarged spleens, which enable them to free dive to depths of up to 70m (230ft) for as long as 13 minutes at a time. This, coupled with the innate human drive to overcome our natural limits – to fly like a bird, to reach outer space promises a new era of exploration. Now, with the help of DEEP, could humans learn to live in the depths of the ocean?
The idea of living underwater is not new. In the 1960s, the French ocean explorer Jaques-Yves Cousteau built an underwater village. Other projects followed, but none have so far resulted in a continuous human presence under the sea.
Dark, vast and seemingly unreachable, the ocean floor is crucial to our lives on the surface. The ocean floor can sequester carbon, and deep ocean phytoplankton forms the basis of the food chains that sustain billions of people. In addition, hydrothermal vents, and other deep-sea environments, host life forms like bacteria and sponges that could provide a source of new antibiotics and anti-cancer drugs.
Unfortunately, human-caused climate change, habitat destruction, and overfishing are already resulting in unprecedented changes to the deep ocean. Deep ocean landscapes develop slowly – sometimes over millennia – and recovery would be slow, if it happened at all. So, the race is on to explore this last frontier before its secrets are lost forever. Robotic explorers and HOV’s (human-occupied vehicles) help our understanding, but there is no substitute for living and working in the deep-sea environment. What DEEP’s Sentinels will allow us to do is to stay for prolonged periods.
DEEP’s Sentinels will be made from the same materials used to make space rockets. Louise Slade, DEEP’s director of advanced manufacturing says: “We’ll be 3D printing with steel, and cladding the Sentinels in Inconel”. Inconel, she explains, is a nickel-chromium-based superalloy, widely used in the military and aerospace industries in extreme environments where components are subjected to high temperature, pressure or mechanical loads.
DEEP’s system of configurable, customisable and flexible marine habitats will be self-sufficient, powered by renewable energy, with bio-reactors to sustainably deal with waste, and be independent of the surface. The habitats will allow scientists to live at depth for weeks rather than minutes. Those scientists will have access to the surrounding water through a moon pool (essentially a hole in the floor of the habitat that leads out into the ocean). They will also have dedicated wet and dry laboratories.
However, much like spaceflight, life aboard a marine habitat is widely recognised as one of the most stressful and psychologically demanding experiences that humans can experience. Life in submarines approximates this problem. Marine habitats are often cramped, and inhabitants deal with confinement, absence of day/night cues, lack of privacy, and isolation from the outside world.
DEEP will be studying whether people can cope with being isolated in a remote place that you just simply cannot leave. This marine research will also provide useful information for long-haul space travel as well. If we’re going to send people to Mars, that will be a three-year mission. DEEP, and NASA, believe it’s important to understand how six people would cope with being trapped in a “tin” together for three years. Life on Sentinel can shed some light on this issue.
The Sentinel is 400m3 (14,126 ft3) in length and 6.2m (20 ft) in diameter – roughly half the size of a Boeing 777’s fuselage. It can house six people at a time and DEEP says it will offer comfort “unlike any other marine habitat“. Habitants can enjoy a good night’s sleep in a private bedroom, proper food prepared in a kitchen, and a warm comfortable living environment.
So, are we about to return to the oceans we crawled out of some 375 million years ago? Much like the moment in 2000, when humans established a permanent presence in space, DEEP aims to create an “International Space Station for the oceans”.
Perhaps re-establishing our connection with this vast unknown landscape will help us realise its importance for the future of our species, and for the Earth itself.