It is famously difficult to become an astronaut. Astronauts must be at the peak of physical fitness, have studied for years to be fully qualified, and be mentally prepared for the hardship of living and working in space.
This takes up to two years where they will be trained to fly space shuttles, learn first aid, repairs, survival skills, and even take public speaking classes so they give speeches.
However, simulating space conditions on earth isn’t easy: astronauts must get used to the sensation of zero gravity, working in spacesuits, and making repairs to the spacecraft. This has to be done under intense pressure, usually underwater.
Currently, there are no commercial facilities in the UK that provide end-to-end services to fully train people to go into space. The Blue Abyss facility in Liverpool aims to become the world’s premier deep-sea and space extreme environment research, training, and test centre.
It will feature a fully functional astronaut training chamber, hypobaric and hyperbaric chambers, a microgravity suite, and a sliding roof which will allow them to insert larger objects or even vehicles into the training pool.
The pool is 50 meters deep at its deepest point, and will be able to accommodate accurate models of the International Space Station for almost entirely realistic training.
We spoke to Blue Abyss’ founder John Vickers, who told us more about the facility, and why it’s going to play a pivotal role in the UK’s space industry:
What made you start the company?
‘I just wanted to link my love of diving with being able to inspire other people about our oceans, and also I knew astronauts trained in pools, and I thought why not combine the two!’
Do you think the UK has potential to become a training hub for the industry?
‘Yes, because Blue Abyss is a marine-to-space company, I believe the UK can become a centre of excellence in developing the next generation of underwater robots, alongside underwater and sub-sea components for the offshore energy industries. Those same underwater robots, I believe, will become the genesis for 'space robots' to assist humanity in reaching out beyond this planet.’
‘Additionally, we want to focus on helping companies and organisations involved in researching and assisting humans to better cope in extreme environments - and where better to do that than in the world's largest, and deepest, pool? We, as a business, have global ambitions, so the UK will be the first of three centres, with others to follow.’
The UK government is planning to acquire 10% of the global space industry turnover by 2030, worth an estimated £40 billion. This won't be possible without investment in projects like Blue Abyss.
Demand is only set to rise over the next decade and beyond, and facilities like Blue Abyss will help the UK be at the forefront of this new and exciting market.