Scientists at NASA recently completed testing of Astro Technology’s newly developed subsea friction clamps. The results suggest that the clamps may enable more precise monitoring of subsea assets at depths of up to 10,000 feet.
The research is part of an ongoing project, known as Clear Gulf, that combines the resources of private Houston firm Astro Technology and NASA’s Johnson Space Center. Last year, the two organizations partnered to develop and test subsea monitoring clamps applied to offshore platforms using a unique underwater adhesive. With the newly tested friction clamps, they are hoping to achieve the same strong coupling and high-quality monitoring without adhesives.
“In an ideal situation, a pipe or platform leg is able to be cleaned and adhesive applied by a professional diver,” said David Brower, president and CEO of Astro Technology. “Of course, that’s not always feasible. Our new friction clamp will allow sensory systems to monitor equipment at a greater range of depths and in various conditions.”
The friction clamps were put through three different kinds of tests: tensile load tests, compression tests and four-point bending tests. The tests variously applied ambient pressure and cycled between 5,000 and 10,000 psi.Throughout all tests, the clamp remained coupled to the pipe.
Based on the results of these tests, the friction clamps could be installed at depths up to 10,000 feet — far beyond the reach of divers. Deepwater systems would be installed via ROV and maintained by miniature subsea robots, a new technology in development at Astro. “In 2000, I was part of the team that designed NASA’s Robonaut,” said Brower. “Now, we’re seeking to bring the same long-distance dexterity from outer space to subsea.” Brower envisions a system of mini-Robonauts that would remain with their assigned clamps to make necessary repairs in real time. “The subsea monitoring systems developed by Astro Technology allow decision-makers topside to detect problems almost instantaneously. Miniature subsea robots will take this one step further, allowing problems to be repaired as swiftly as they are discovered.”
Further testing at Johnson Space Center is planned, followed by tests in the field.
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