The extraterrestrial seas of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, provide an ideal world for a robotic submarine to explore, and a team of scientists is working on an innovative mission concept that could make that vision a reality.
A submarine on Titan would open up the lakes and rivers of liquid methane and ethane that cover the cloudy Saturn moon to exploration.
In a NASA video of the Titan Sub mission concept, the robotic submarine sails the Kraken Mare, the largest northern sea on Titan. That alien sea is nearly 600 miles (1,000 kilometers) wide and 1,000 feet deep (300 meters).
According to the mission design, the Titan submarine would use science instruments to probe a full spectrum of oceanographic phenomena.
These tasks would include measuring the chemical composition of the sea, mapping surface and subsurface currents, and making a detailed inspection of bottom features.
The concept was detailed during the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts 2015 symposium, held here Jan. 27-29.
NIAC sponsors cutting-edge, innovative and technically credible advanced concepts under the auspices of the Space Technology Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington, D.C.
A submarine on Titan
First of all, if you’re going to explore Titan, why a submarine?
Such a vehicle provides a more efficient, on-the-spot science system, said Steven Oleson, lead of NASA’s Collaborative Modeling for Parametric Assessment of Space Systems (COMPASS) conceptual spacecraft design team at Glenn Research Center in Cleveland, Ohio.
The sub approach makes the vessel both highly maneuverable and capable of very long-range duties, similar to autonomous underwater vehicles here on Earth, Oleson said.
The ethane and methane seas on Titan have been extensively mapped by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which has been studying the moon as part of its mission to Saturn since 2004, when the probe arrived in orbit around the ringed planet.
In January 2005, the Huygens probe — a lander carried by Cassini, but built by the European and Italian space agencies — landed on the surface of Titan, beaming back the first photos of that strange new world.
But what’s beneath the surface of Titan’s seas remains an enigma — one that a submarine could help solve, Oleson and his team members say.
The COMPASS team scoped out the submarine idea along with technologists and scientists from The Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (JHUAPL) in Laurel, Maryland, and submarine designers from The Pennsylvania State University’s Applied Research Laboratory.
Oleson said that the NIAC-funded first-look focused on just the submarine. Follow-on study money, if awarded, would entail research into a delivery system to plop the vessel into Titan’s seas.
The team initially assumed a lifting-body spacecraft could be used, he said, but they may also consider an inflatable aeroshell or a simple, extended, shaped aeroshell to deploy the long, skinny sub on the Saturn moon.
Please like, share and tweet this article.
Pass it on: Popular Science