The USNS Henson is an oceanographic survey ship owned by the United States Navy and is used to collect data for the purpose of geophysical, biological, physical and acoustical surveys. Because of its expansive reach, the American military needs information on all ocean environments around the world in order to support military, navigation and humanitarian missions as needed. The Henson and her sister ships in the Pathfinder-class do not have home ports due to the Military Sealift Commands mobile structure. Essentially her "Home" is where the mission is.
The Henson's purpose is to hold and transport the abundance of sophisticated scientific equipment for the twenty-seven scientists onboard who work to collect data related on their own field of study. The data collected ranges from the surface of the water, through the depths and straight into the sea floor. The ship can study the atmosphere while any coastline can be mapped. Henson gathers, archives, and transmits data collected to MSC onshore by radio or satellite communications equipment. The data collected helps the Navy to develop current and future undersea warfare plans along with surveying sea beds as well as locating lost aircraft and ships - either past or present.
The ships construction is designed to support the bevy of instruments connected below the water line. The hull has a multi-beam shape to support the equipment and offers good sea keeping. The military's knowledge of the ocean environment has been dramatically increased due to oceanographic survey ships like the Henson.
Henson was named for Matthew Henson, a member of the Robert Peary 1909 expedition to the North Pole. USNS Henson herself is operated by Horizon Lines, providing the crew for the ship, though mission orders come from Military Sealift Command. When any of the Pathfinder-class are sent into waters where hostile action might transpire, the US Navy proactively sends along a protection force as escort.
A listing of some of the scientific equipment onboard is as follows:
Multi-beam Echo Sounding System ( SIMRAD EM121A) is a 121 beam bathymetric sonar system used to chart waters from 10 to 11,000 meters in real time.
Seismic System is used as a deep penetration instrument, this being a towed array mapping geological topography.
Shallow Water Echo Sounder System (ODEC BATHY-2000) provides a single beam for depths to 12,000 meters.
Sub Bottom Profiler (ODEC BATHY-2000) is capable of determining seabed structure down to 10,000 meters.
Acoustic Doppler (RD VM-0150) profiles ocean current speeds, depth and directions up to 380 meters.
Expandable Sensor Subsystem surveys other sonars for support corrections.
Sound Velocity Profiles (XSV) helps to survey sonar systems for speed thru water columns.
Magnetometer (E#GG811/613) uses magnets to map the earth's magnetic field to 7,000 meters.
Water Sampler Subsystem operates water collectors to depths of 7,000 meters.
Bottom Transponder Navigation System is a 50 kHz real time navigation system designed to help position the ship.
On January 20th, 2010, USNS Henson was sent to Haiti to study the harbors and costal waterways, mapping underwater obstructions caused by the large earthquake. To accomplish the mission she utilized the many types of sonar systems onboard.