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After Overhaul, Jason Is Stronger Than Ever

Deep-sea vehicle is stripped down, redesigned, and upgraded


Since it was first launched in 1988, the remotely operated vehicle Jason has been a workhorse for oceanographic scientists, hauling instruments, conducting experiments, collecting samples, and taking images in the depths.

In April 2015, Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution engineers gave Jason its first major overhaul since 2002, increasing its payload and capabilities and streamlining its operations. The team stripped Jason down to its base, replacing its frame and redesigning its systems.

During missions, pilots operate Jason in real time from a control van on a ship via a .842-inch-thick umbilical, while the vehicle sends back data and high-definition video from the seafloor. Until now, Jason has been operated as a two-body system with Medea, a smaller remotely operated vehicle that buffered Jason from surface ship movements and provided lighting.

The upgrade allows Jason to be decoupled from Medea and operate as a single-body system, said Matt Heintz, manager of the Jason program at WHOI. That decoupling, along with an enhanced winch and new launch and recovery system, makes launch and recovery operations “far less challenging and much faster,” Heintz said, and makes the vehicle more versatile.

The upgrade also redesigned and replaced Jason’s equipment-carrying tool skid and enhanced its flotation to increase Jason’s lift capacity from 400 pounds to two tons of scientific samples and instruments. It also has a bigger and stronger cable tether that increases its break strength from 42,000 to 70,000 pounds.

The yearlong $2.4 million upgrade was funded by the National Science Foundation.