There's a new "Virgin" around, and it's called Virgin Oceanic. Sir Richard Branson plans to explore, not commercialize, the ocean depths with his "Deep? Flight ?Challenger."
Designed by Graham Hawkes, the "Deep? Flight ?Challenger" was originally commissioned by Sir Richard Branson's friend, the late Steve Fossett. Branson "intends to finish what his friend started and then go on to help explore and unlock the wonders of the oceans still unknown to humankind or science."
[Steve Fossett was reported missing on September 3, 2007, after the plane he was flying over the Nevada desert failed to return. His remains were not found and verified until late in 2008.]
The submarine is made from 8,000 pounds of carbon fiber and titanium. It's a single person vehicle, and unlike traditional submarines which use ballast to dive, it is a winged design, and will fly downward into the depths.
The Virgin Oceanic project will include five dives over the next two years to "the deepest part of each of Earth's five oceans."
The first dive will be piloted by Chris Welsh, into the Mariana Trench in the Pacific Ocean, the deepest part of Earth's seas. The one person sub has an operating depth of 37,000ft (7 miles); it is capable of operating for 24 hours with aid.
The second dive will be bottom of the Puerto Rico Trench, and that will be piloted by Sir Richard Branson himself. This trench is the deepest spot in the Atlantic Ocean at over than 5 miles in depth.
The following three missions will explore the Arctic, Southern and Indian oceans.
Prior to its first deep dive, the submarine will undergo three months of pressure testing. It was noted that the submarine's quartz cockpit "dome" will be under 13 million pounds of pressure, which is the weight of three space shuttles. An implosion in the depths would be fatal for the occupant.
Sir Richard Branson already has two enterprises involving delving into reaches of Earth's areas. Virgin Atlantic is, of course, his airline, and it is hoped that Virgin Galactic's commercial space flights with human passengers will "take off" later this year, or in 2012.
Virgin Oceanic has teased the submarine and its missions with a short video, below.