Pioneer-M is the first ever research vessel created for the university and designed with the participation of students

The first stage of the competitive selection of conceptual projects of the "Pioneer-M" research vessel — the All-Russian competition of student projects "I will build ships!" — started on May 28, 2016 with the support of the Ministry of Education and Science of the Russian Federation, the United Shipbuilding Corporation and the Agency for Strategic Initiatives (ASI).

Within the framework of the competition of student initiatives at the Sevastopol State University, teams of leading shipbuilding universities of the country offered ideas for a ship designed to determine the future of shipbuilding in the Russian Federation. As a result, an interuniversity student team led by teachers and mentors from USC created the first concept of the research vessel "Pioneer-M".

The innovative research vessel "Pioneer-M" was laid and built at the Sredne-Nevsky Shipyard. The launching ceremony took place on September 24, 2021.

After launching, the plant's specialists continued working on the vessel, filling it with systems and mechanisms, completing interior finishing and electrical work. Completion works were carried out both in the production facility and on the water.
"The Sredne-Nevsky Shipyard carried out the completion works in accordance with the program: installed navigation devices, radio stations, echo sounder, radar equipment, debugged systems and mechanisms,» said the head of the department of operation of research vessels of SevSU Sergey Shesternenko.

In April 2022, the work was done, mooring and sea trials began.

"Mooring tests are related to the operation in the base: checking life support systems, household devices. Sea trials were held in Lake Ladoga."

On August 9, 2022, the tests were successfully completed. Acceptance certificates were signed by representatives of the Sredne-Nevsky Shipyard, USC "Technology" and Sevastopol State University. The certificates are approved by the Russian Maritime Register of Shipping. On August 17, the towing of the innovative research vessel "Pioneer-M" from the St. Petersburg port to the Sevastopol port began.

The length of the vessel "Pioneer-M" is about 26 meters, width — 9 meters, maximum speed — 11 knots. The vessel can operate autonomously for five days, the cruising range is 500 miles, the displacement is 120 tons.

"Pioneer-M" is embodied not in iron, but in composite material. This is the second catamaran class vessel in Russia made of carbon fiber. The carbon fiber body is not inferior to metal analogues in terms of strength, and it resists fatigue of materials better, is resistant to the action of the marine environment and is much easier to repair and operate. According to the developers, they chose the composite material for the "Pioneer-M" because it allows implementing the concept of hulls that, with low weight, can carry a large supply of fuel.

According to the schedule, "Pioneer-M" will be able to start its research activities in early December 2022. Before that, the vessel will be tested at sea. "Pioneer-M" will also be provided with a modular mobile research laboratory.

The navigation area of the "Pioneer-M" is no more than 20 nautical miles away from the coastline, the distance from the port of refuge is no more than 50 nautical miles.

The vessel is designed for 16 people: 6 people are the crew, 10 are members of the research expedition. For short trips to the sea, the crew may be limited to three members, respectively, the number of the expedition members may be increased otherwise. The ship's crew has already been formed, the captain and the chief engineer took part in sea trials.
"It's nice to see a grandiose project come to life to create the first scientific drone vessel in our country, which will soon study the Black Sea and Azov waters in autonomous mode. For six years, many specialists from all over the country worked on the project, including students – talented young people from different universities, and together they managed to create a magnificent example of the vessel of the future. "Pioneer-M" is a true pioneer in its field. I hope that in the coming years Russia will have a whole flotilla of such vessels capable of conducting promising oceanographic, hydrobiological and hydrochemical research. I am sure that the results of the work of "Pioneer-M" will bring Russian science to a fundamentally new level," said the head of ASI Svetlana Chupsheva.

In September, the vessel will arrive in Sevastopol, and soon, after passing the necessary preparatory procedures, it will be ready to conduct sea expeditions. Among the SevSU partners who are interested in them, are the participants of the world-class scientific and educational center "MoreAgroBioTech". Students' participation in such expeditions is especially important.

"Pioneer-M" will open previously inaccessible areas for scientists and will allow them to quickly conduct expeditions to places of environmental pollution or extraordinary natural phenomena.

SevSU scientists and their colleagues from other universities and scientific institutes of the Russian Academy of Sciences are conducting research that allows them to gain knowledge about global processes in the Black Sea. The study of local phenomena gives a more detailed picture and may have applied significance.

"There are zones in Crimea that are comfortable for a variety of extremophile organisms — that is, those who feel comfortable at high temperatures, in environments with a high concentration of hydrogen sulfide or in a hypersalted environment. And it is clear that not all such locations can be approached by a large ship, but "Pioneer-M" is more compact, highly mobile, and perhaps it will help to find new habitats for extremophiles. We are conducting similar studies, and "Pioneer-M" will help to select interesting samples," says Anastasia Lantushenko, leading researcher at the laboratory "Bioresource potential of marine territory" of Sevastopol State University.

The advantage of the "Pioneer-M" vessel for researchers will also be its mobility — we expect it to be able to carry out voyages "by order" of scientists.

"It takes much time for big research vessels to prepare an expedition, they work according to their own schedule, and they are not able to reach the necessary destination in an hour. "Pioneer-M", though, is a highly transportable vessel. If we see that some kind of nonstandard environmental situation has occured and we need to be there right now, "Pioneer-M" will help. For example, if the water temperature has changed dramatically somewhere, and that can affect the state of the biota, or if a pollution or local flowering has occurred, we will use the "Pioneer-M" vessel. We can miss such phenomena while equipping a larger vessel," Anastasia Lantushenko explained.

Similar studies can be useful for the resort industry as well. The study of the Black Sea plankton and their interaction with jellyfish will help predict the growth of the latter's population near various coastal areas.

For example, in August of this year, scientists recorded a large accumulation of jellyfish in the sea. At the same time, the number of these organisms in the last 10 years has been increasing both in the Black and in The Azov seas. Scientists note that the accumulation and mass death of jellyfish lead to sea pollution, and the Rhizostomae Pulmo jellyfish can damage the skin and are especially dangerous for those who have an allergic reaction.

"Phytoplankton are the smallest algae. Zooplankton are larger organisms that feed on these algae, and they are food for fish and other inhabitants of the sea. Studying the dynamics of the growth of the volume of phyto- and zooplankton and their interaction with jelly-bodied organisms will help predict surges in the number of jellyfish, or vice versa — its absence on the coast, due to which the holiday-makers will be more comfortable there," said Anastasia Lantushenko.

Also, scientists of SevSU, within the framework of the strategic project "Digital twin of the marine territory ecosystem", plan to investigate upwelling — the rise of deep ocean waters to the surface — on the newest research vessel "Pioneer-M".

We heard about that from Vladislav Evstigneev, a leading researcher at the Regional Climate Systems Research Laboratory.
The advantage of the "Pioneer-M" vessel for researchers will also be its mobility — we expect it to be able to carry out voyages "by order" of scientists.
"Pioneer-M" is equipped with portable research laboratories designed for a wide range of marine research.
"Within the framework of the "Digital twin of the marine territory ecosystem" project, we have several scientific fundamental studies that are very important. For example, marine ecology studies: study of ecological state and assessment of the influence of various physical and hydrophysical atmosphere factors on biological and biophysical interactions in the marine ecosystem of our region."

Scientists need to objectively assess patterns and predict the ecological state of waters under the influence of physical factors or anthropogenic impact. The main focus of research is microand mesoscale processes occurring in the Black Sea.
"Pioneer-M" is equipped with portable research laboratories designed for a wide range of marine research.

The laboratories contain research and auxiliary equipment that ensures the performance of oceanographic and hydrobiological studies and diving operations.

Container 1
"Oceanography, hydrobiology, hydrochemistry": a cassette of bathometers, primary probes, electronic equipment for signal registration.

Container 2
"Geomorphology and hydroacoustics": lateral (circular) view sonar, hydroacoustic profiler, electronic equipment for signal registration.

Container 3
"Diving equipment".

Container 4
"Robotic research complex". Creation and development of an automation technology complex.

With the aid of laboratories, it is possible to carry out:
  • hydrological studies — determination of temperature, transparency, turbulence of water at different depths, speed and direction of streams, as well as observations of sea waves;
  • hydrochemical studies — study of the composition and salinity of water, the nutrients and dissolved gases in it, depending on various factors;
  • geophysical research — measurement of magnetic, gravitational and electric fields, radiometry and seismic exploration;
  • geological research — sampling and analysis of seabed rocks;
  • hydroacoustic research — study of the laws of sound propagation in seawater;
  • hydrographic research — implementation of coastal and marine measurements, mapping and lotting;
  • meteorological studies — determination of temperature, humidity and air pressure, wind speed and direction, solar radiation, as well as observations of clouds;
  • biological research — studies of aquatic flora and fauna;
  • ecological research — the relationship between the marine biosphere and the environment;
  • underwater archaeological research — the study of material objects of historical and cultural heritage located on the seabed.
Specialists of Sevastopol State University and The United Shipbuilding Corporation will jointly develop systems that will allow the ship to be operated without a crew, said Alexey Chuklin, director of the interregional world-class scientific and educational center "MoreAgroBioTech".

For example, field tests of the unmanned mooring system of the vessel will begin in 2023.

"Within the framework of the SevSU internal grants program, a team of scientists is developing an automatic mooring system for the vessel. We need such a technology so that its error during operation is no more than a few centimeters. It will be used as an aid for the captain, or — in the future — it will be able to work directly on the steering elements, ensuring the automatic mooring process," said Alexey Chuklin, director of the interregional world-class scientific and educational center "MoreAgroBioTech".

He explained that the automatic mooring system should consist of several elements. One set of sensors should be on the berth, the second, compatible with the first one, — on the ship itself. When communication is established between the two sets of sensors, the vessel can be brought to the berth at the right speed and along the right trajectory. It is planned to achieve such accuracy that the system can carry out this process without human intervention.

And until 2027, research vessel "Pioneer-M" will become a remotely-controlled floating laboratory. The vessel will be equipped with remote control modules, which will allow to remotely collect scientific data from the marine area for subsequent comprehensive environmental analysis, said Maxim Evstigneev, Vice-rector of SevSU for Scientific Activities.

"A complex remote-controlled expedition involves taking a large number of samples: measurements of chemical, biological, environmental and other parameters. Now scientists present on board do this as the ship moves.It is expensive, takes a lot of time, and sometimes it is dangerous for the expedition participants. We strive to ensure that all processes and measurements on the research vessel are conducted remotely — that is, when an operator (in our case, a scientist) uses a computer at the coastal control post and remotely performs manipulations and measurements," Evstigneev said.

In order to implement a floating laboratory on the vessel, it is necessary to develop a number of devices and technologies in several directions: to ensure the ship's unmanned control, create remote control systems and solve the issue of automating the measurement process necessary for scientists.

"The prospect of introducing devices for unmanned vessels has already been outlined during the development of "Pioneer-M" (the so-called "flight expert system-ready vessel project"): there is a reserve of space for the installation of all the necessary automation complex. To solve the problem of remote control, it is necessary to develop several nodes; modules must be installed both on the shore where the control point is located, and on the ship itself, where the operator's commands are received," the vice—rector specified.

The task of organizing measurements at the university is expected to be solved with the help of a network of marine buoys connected to the vessel. Each of them will perform its functions and make measurements on a particular parameter. The onboard computer must maintain communication with this network (the principle of the so-called "Internet of things" is implemented here) and automatically control their function in a given water area and collect data.

SevSU already has developments in this area — for many years there has been a specialized laboratory that cooperates with scientists and organizations around the world.
Olga Burtseva

Olga Burtseva, member of the Department of Information Policy, Marketing and PR of Sevastopol State University, public relations specialist, editor of the 1st category, head of the educational laboratory "Media Communications".
She was born and lives in Sevastopol. Received higher education at Sevastopol State University
in the fields of "Computer and intelligent systems and networks" and "Finance and Credit".
Has 15 years experience of work in media, including the advertising and information newspaper "Courier", the newspaper "Arguments and Facts" and "Moskovsky Komsomolets".
She has been working at Sevastopol State University since 2017.