At a recent conference on lunar and planetary exploration, NASA announced ambitious plans to construct and send a submarine to study the seas of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
Saturn’s frigid moon Titan, visited by the Huygens probe in 2005, has a thick atmosphere and three vast northern polar seas of methane and ethane: these seas are of particular interest for future exploration. These seas have a composition and conditions (1.5 bar, 92K) rather similar to those of Liquefied Natural Gas (LNG) on Earth.
Titan is one of Saturn’s 62 official moons and is also one that NASA is eager to explore. Because Titan has a thick nitrogen atmosphere and several large hydrocarbon lakes, many scientists believe may harbor some form of life.
Previously limited to surface information taken and beamed back from orbiters, NASA is hoping to explore the depths of Kraken Mare, Titan’s largest sea “that contains enough liquid methane to fill Lake Michigan three times over.”
NASA’s conceptual submarine
NASA plans to design a submarine that can travel approximately 2,000 kilometers (1,250 miles) over the duration of a 90 day mission. This submarine will endure rough tides and sizable waves as it descends periodically to observe, study and collect data on a variety of features found in Kraken Mare. Specifically, the submarine will analyze the chemical composition of Kraken Mare’s liquid. The submarine will also study Kraken Mare’s currents, tidal patterns, and perhaps best of all, will use its cameras to image Titan’s shoreline and landscape.
Powered by a compact radioisotope thermoelectric generator, the submarine will have no problem submerging as much as it needs to. The data that is collected will be beamed back to Earth each time the submarine surfaces.
Although there is much more work and fund raising to be done, NASA is betting heavily on making this mission a reality. Be sure to check out the featured video that provides a convenient overview of how NASA envisions their submarine will operate in Kraken Mare.