VESSEL REVIEW | Pioner-M – Russian research catamaran fitted with autonomous sailing capability

Photo: USC

Russian state-owned United Shipbuilding Corporation (USC), through its Sredne-Nevsky Shipbuilding Plant in Saint Petersburg, will soon deliver a new research vessel to Sevastopol State University (SevSU).

Pioner-M (“Pioneer-M”), a catamaran vessel with a hull made from composite materials, was designed by local naval architects Korall Central Design Bureau in compliance to Russian Maritime Register of Shipping class rules. The vessel was developed with the cooperation of students from SevSU and other Russian state universities and with support from the country’s Ministry of Education.

USC said Pioner-M is the first Russian-built research vessel that was designed from the outset with the capability to conduct fully autonomous sailings. The craft will thus be used initially as a platform for testing various autonomous navigation systems, with trial sailings to be carried out in the coastal waters of the Black Sea and the Sea of Azov. In those same waters year-round, the vessel will also perform other scientific duties that include but are not limited to oceanographic research, hydroacoustic research, archaeological expeditions, environmental monitoring, and even dive support.

The vessel has a length of 26 metres, a beam of nine metres, and a displacement of 114 tonnes. A pair of 246kW engines will propel the craft to a maximum speed of 10 knots while sailing at more economical cruising speeds will enable it to cover a distance of more than 430 nautical miles or operate for up to five days in between refuelling. Although intended to regularly operate in autonomous mode, the vessel nonetheless has onboard accommodations for a four-strong crew plus 12 researchers and other personnel.

Even with the vessel’s rather compact size, the main deck can accommodate standard cargo containers that have been reconfigured as laboratories and other workspaces. This enables the vessel to function as a seagoing platform for a wide range of research activities, making it a highly versatile craft. Operation in wave heights of up to 3.5 metres is also possible, allowing research missions and other activities to be conducted even in the rough weather and sea conditions that are typical in Eastern European coastal waters as well as in calm inland waters.

Pioner-M was launched in September 2021. In addition to being employed on coastal research missions, the craft will also operate as a technology testbed as part of a planned marine science “technopark” that will be implemented at SevSU.

More great content as part of this week’s Research and Training Week right here.

Type of vessel:Research vessel
Classification:Russian Maritime Register of Shipping
Owner:Sevastopol State University, Russia
Operator:Sevastopol State University, Russia
Designer:Korall Central Design Bureau, Russia
Builder:Sredne-Nevsky Shipbuilding Plant, Russia
Hull construction material:Composites
Length overall:26 metres
Beam:9.0 metres
Displacement:114 tonnes
Capacity:Cargo container
Main engines:2 x 246 kW
Maximum speed:10 knots
Range:430 nautical miles
Other electronics:Autonomous navigation system

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