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Science & Tech: Titan Sub Might Have Imploded From 'micro Buckling'

SCIENCE & TECH: Titan sub might have imploded from ‘micro-buckling’

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The mystery of the Titan submersible implosion may soon be solved.

The five people who perished aboard the OceanGate vessel as it plunged thousands of feet below sea level could have been victims of “micro-buckling,” a new study suggests.

Small imperfections in the thin-walled structure may have become more damaged with every trip the vessel took to visit the Titanic’s final resting place until it finally gave way to the immense pressure of the ocean on the doomed June 18, 2023 trip, researchers from the University of Houston theorized.

The Titan sub imploded during a June 2023 voyage to the Titanic’s final resting place. Becky Kagan Schott / OceanGate Expeditions

In a paper published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences earlier this month, the experts examined how the “slenderness” of a hemispherical shell with random imperfections — much like the submersible itself — is extra susceptible to a buckling-induced collapse.

“Buckling in the simplest explanation: you take a long spaghetti and you push on it with two fingers. What’s going to happen? It’s going to buckle essentially, it’s going to snap,” Roberto Ballarini, one of the paper’s authors and the university’s department chair of Civil and Environmental Engineering, told The Post.

“That’s what buckling is. It’s when you compress something and it deforms by a significant amount because it’s an instability.”

Ballarini emphasized that the study did not directly examine whether micro-buckling contributed to the Titan failure, but studied vessels of similar shape and material.

Five people were killed in the tragedy, which garnered nationwide attention. NTSB

There are still several other potential causes for the disaster — including issues with the hull’s carbon fiber composite material — but the buckling effect could be one.

Much like a car or a plane, the spherical shell of the submersible was designed to carry large loads, but small imperfections — even those invisible to the eye — provide a weak point for pressure to congregate, ultimately collapsing the thin walls of the vessel.

The Titan submersible had made more than 50 dives without any issues before its infamous implosion — but each trip may have caused more damage to the hull until it ultimately lost its integrity.

The possibility that the hull — made of carbon fiber composite — had degraded in some way is something for experts to consider, Ballarini told The Post.

The University of Houston team used computer simulations to determine the Titan’s susceptibility to micro-buckling based on its shape.

Although the simulations did not analyze whether micro-buckling caused the Titan implosion, the research may reveal what caused the disaster.

The cause of the Titan disaster is still under investigation, but micro-buckling could be one solution. YouTube @DALLMYD

The buckling may have begun at the point of the most severe imperfection, but since the flaws are randomly distributed around the shell of a vessel like the Titan, it’s still impossible to know where the failure might have occurred.

“This randomness has profound implications for the statistics of the critical buckling pressure of the shell,” said Ballarini.

Ballarini teased that his team might do a separate investigation into the cause of the Titan failure.

OceanGate CEO and Titan pilot Stockton Rush, 61, French Titanic expert Paul-Henri Nargeolet, 77, British billionaire Hamish Harding, 58, prominent Pakistani businessman Shahzada Dawood, 48, and his 19-year-old son, Sulaiman Dawood were killed in the tragedy.

Officials are still investigating the evidence recovered from the sub wreckage.



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