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An umbilical cable or umbilical is a cable and/or hose which supplies required consumables to an apparatus. It is named by analogy with an umbilical cord. An umbilical can for example supply air and power to a pressure suit or hydraulic power, electrical power and fiber optics to subsea equipment.
Umbilicals connect a missile or space vehicle to ground support equipment on the launch pad before launch. Cables carry electrical power, communications, and telemetry, and pipes or hoses carry liquid propellants, cryogenic fluids, and pressurizing and purge gases. These are automatically disconnected shortly before or at launch.
Early space suits used in Project Gemini in 1965 and 1966 employed umbilicals to the spacecraft for to provide suit oxygen and communications during extravehicular activity (EVA). (Soviet cosmonaut Alexei Leonov performed the first EVA using a self-contained oxygen backpack, and thus did not require an umbilical.) Later designs (first used on Apollo program lunar EVA in 1969) do not need spacecraft umbilicals, instead employing backpacks for self-contained oxygen, electric batteries, and radio communication.
Subsea umbilicals are deployed on the seabed (ocean floor) to supply necessary control, energy (electric, hydraulic) and chemicals to subsea oil and gas wells, subsea manifolds and any subsea system requiring remote control, such as a remotely operated vehicle. Subsea intervention umbilicals are also used for offshore drilling or workover activities.
A diver's umbilical is a group of components which supply breathing gas and other services from the surface control point to a diver.
For shallow water surface supply air diving, the diver's umbilical is typically a 3-part umbilical comprising a gas hose, pneumofathometer ("pneumo") hose, and diver communications cable, which usually also serves as a lifeline strength member. The "pneumo" hose is open at the diver's end and connected to a pressure gauge on the surface gas panel, where the supervisor can use it to measure the diver's depth in the water at any time.
A 4-part diver umbilical will also have a hot water supply hose for the diver's exposure suit.
A 5-part diver umbilical will also include a video cable to allow the surface controller to see the video picture transmitted to the surface from the diver's hat camera (video camera mounted on the helmet, facing forward).
For saturation diving from a closed bell, a typical diver excursion umbilical may be an 8-part umbilical with a gas supply hose, gas reclaim hose, hot water hose, pneumo hose, tracking hose, comms/lifeline cable, video cable and hat light cable.
When there is risk of the umbilical cable being damaged by scratching on rock or coral, the umbilical bundle may be over-braided with a polypropylene braid cover.
Early diver umbilicals were simply the individual components bundled together and taped every metre or so with duct tape. These bundles tend to distort and produce kinks in the components caused by bending (particularly dangerous if the kink is in the divers gas supply hose), and require frequent maintenance.
More recent umbilicals comprise all the components laid together like a twisted rope, so that there is little chance of a kink, no separate lifeline component is required, and no tape is required to hold the umbilical together. An additional component such as a video cable for a diver's camera, or a hat light cable, can be added by manually wrapping this additional component into the lay of the existing cabled umbilical.