September 28, 2012
Scientists Propose Saturn’s Moon Titan As Next Great Space Mission
April Flowers for redOrbit.com - Your Universe Online
We have sent a man to the moon, rovers to Mars and two Voyager missions into the great unknown reaches of space. Perhaps, it's time to land a boat on Titan.
Although this idea is just in the concept stage, scientists say it is time to really consider it, and a group of engineers presented their proposals at the European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) on September 27, 2012.
The European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) is an annual international convention of planetary scientists. This year's Congress is taking place in Madrid, and will cover the whole scope of planetary science with workshops, panel discussions and presentations.
Titan is Saturn's largest moon and one of the most Earth-like bodies in the Solar System. Titan more closely resembles a planet than a moon like Earth's with its thick atmosphere, planetary diameter between that of Earth and Mercury, and a network of seas, lakes and rivers.
The Cassini-Huygens mission extensively studied Titan in the 2000s and confirmed the presence of lakes, seas, and rivers of liquid hydrocarbons similar to household gas that cover much of the satellite moon´s northern hemisphere. The Huygens probe landed on solid ground, but it was only equipped with the ability to float for a short while.
The Cassini Spacecraft launched in 1997 along with the ESA's Huygens probe on a four-year mission to explore Titan. The probe landed on Titan's surface on January 14, 2005 and returned spectacular results for the 1 hour and 10 minutes that it was active on the surface of Titan.
The new concept, which is being called the Titan Lake In-situ Sampling Propelled Explorer (TALISE), proposes a boat-probe that will be propelled by wheels, paddles or screws. Landing in the middle of Ligeia Mare, the biggest lake near Titan's north pole, the probe would set sail for the coast taking scientific measurements along the way. The primary phase of the mission would last around six months to a year.
"The main innovation in TALISE is the propulsion system," says Igone Urdampilleta, a member of the TALISE team. "This allows the probe to move, under control, from the landing site in the lake, to the closest shore. The displacement capability would achieve the obtaining of liquid and solid samples from several scientific interesting locations on Titan's surface such as the landing place, along the route towards the shore and finally at the shoreline."
Unlike the Earth, Titan's environment is too cold to support life as we know it. That same environment is rich in the building blocks of life, however, making it of great interest to astrobiologists. Made up largely of nitrogen, like the Earth, Titan's atmosphere is rich in organic compounds and hydrogen cyanide, which may have played a role in the emergence of life on Earth.
TALISE is being developed as a partnership between SENER, a private engineering and technology group, and the Centro de Astrobiologia in Madrid, Spain. Right now, the mission concept being presented is the result of a "Phase 0" study. In subsequent phases, the feasibility of the mission and a preliminary mission architecture will be realized to consolidate a possible technical proposal for future space science mission call.