Titan has been a NASA focus lately, thanks to its Cassini mission still ongoing there. Based on the data, they’ve learned that the moon is very similar in nature to a primitive Earth. Of course, our weather system involves water, but the Saturnian moon’s system is methane-based, but the world still has rain, albeit different from Earth’s. It still has standing pools of liquid covering its surface — and, it has solid ground.
That has NASA and other scientists wondering just what else Titan might have. Are there microbial lifeforms in the dirt? Does bacteria of some kind creep around in its lakes? The only way we could know these answers would be to somehow visit the surface and collect samples to examine. We’re a long way from being able to send humans out to Titan, of course, but NASA has another idea in mind: they want to send a drone.
Now being labeled the Titan Aerial Daughtercraft mission concept, the idea recently received a Phase 1 grant of $100,000 from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts program.
The proposal calls for a quadcopter drone that would be dropped from a balloon to explore Titan’s surface. The drone would then return to the balloon to recharge for the night. Together, the two vehicles could investigate Titan’s environment and observe the atmosphere.
Scientists believe the atmosphere of Titan is prebiotic, or what Earth may have been like before life evolved. It’s this atmosphere that makes visiting Titan so appealing.
“One of the top priorities now is to investigate the surface and chemical processes at the surface,” said Larry Matthies, lead researcher for the project.
Matthies has also pointed out that this project is going to have to fight for money the whole way if it’s ever to get off the ground. Even then, it won’t be launched for at least a couple of decades.
All that aside, it would be interesting to consider just what sorts of drones or other equipment ought to be sent. NASA has expressed an interest in sending not only aerial drones that would float along up in the sky, and the littler rover that would jump down for samples, but the possibility of sending some sort of robo-sub to plunge into the murky depths of the carbonic lakes and see what may be found there.
This project, labeled the Titan Submarine, was also given funding as a Phase 1 possibility. The team behind this project wants to send their sub to explore Titan’s biggest lake, known as Kraken Mare. It has even been suggested that both projects could be undertaken during the same mission if the aerial drone dropped off the sub as well as the lander.
The concept of examining Titan is some heady stuff, but it’s difficult to say if funding for such a project will ever become a priority, what with everyone wanting to get men to Mars within the next decade, and the “lasso an asteroid” concept that’s being bandied about. I encourage any of you who would want to see this happen to let NASA and the government know. You never know how much your opinion will help.
Here’s a video that discusses Titan’s atmosphere: