UK Launches Massive, Nuclear-Powered Submarine

Artful Nuclear-Powered Submarine
A British nuclear-powered attack submarine, named Artful, was moved out of its massive construction hall on May 16, 2014, and was lowered into the water at Barrow-in-Furness the following day. (Image credit: BAE Systems)

Building a giant, nuclear-powered submarine is no easy feat, but the hardest part of the process might be getting such a massive vehicle into the water.

Yet on May 17, workers in Barrow-in-Furness, a seaport town in the northwest county of Cumbria, England, were able to accomplish this seemingly superhuman task when they successfully lowered Artful, the U.K. Royal Navy's newest aquatic behemoth, into its docking station.

The submarine measures nearly 320 feet long (97 meters) and weighs more than 8,000 tons, according to the U.K.'s Ministry of Defense. Artful is the third Astute-class nuclear-powered submarine built for the Royal Navy by British defense contractor BAE Systems. It cost approximately $1.7 billion U.S. ($1 billion British Pounds) to develop the high-tech submarine, Ministry of Defense officials said. [7 Technologies That Transformed Warfare]

On May 16, workers began moving Artful from its home in BAE System's massive construction hall, but the submarine wasn't ready to be lowered into the water until the following day.

"Moving a submarine of this size from its build hall to the water is very challenging," Stuart Godden, Astute program director for BAE Systems, said in a statement. "It's [a] testament to the experience and careful planning of the team involved that Artful is now ready for the next phase in her program."

Godden said BAE Systems' past experiences building these giant vehicles helped the company successfully launch Artful at an advanced stage of the craft's construction. This enables the company to focus on testing the submarine to prepare it for its first trip out to sea, which will likely occur some time next year, Godden said.

"The launch of this submarine brings it a step closer to entering into service, where it will provide a key capability for the Royal Navy and an essential component of the Submarine Service into the future," Rear Admiral Mike Wareham, director of submarines at the U.K.'s Ministry of Defense, said in a statement.

Both Wareham and Godden noted that seeing Artful afloat in the water was a huge source of pride for the thousands involved in the planning and construction of the submarine.

BAE Systems, the U.K.'s only designer and builder of nuclear-powered submarines, previously built two other Astute-class submarines — the HMS Astute and the HMS Ambush — for the Royal Navy. Five additional Astute-class submarines are still under construction, according to the Ministry of Defense.

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Elizabeth Peterson

Elizabeth is a former Live Science associate editor and current director of audience development at the Chamber of Commerce. She graduated with a bachelor of arts degree from George Washington University. Elizabeth has traveled throughout the Americas, studying political systems and indigenous cultures and teaching English to students of all ages.