NASA has set its sights on the next interplanetary conquest plan that will see an unmanned autonomous submarine vehicle navigating through the hydrocarbon seas that exist on the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, ‘The Titan’. The National Space Agency revealed its plans to build and develop a submersible autonomous vehicle, which in common parlance is referred to as a ‘submarine. Since this submarine will have to face an extreme and hostile environment, images of which have only started coming to NASA from the earlier 1997 Cassini-Huygens mission, NASA will have to evolve a different architecture and development technology that makes the mission suitable for Titan’s extremely harsh climate.
A recent video released by NASA detailed the proposed design of the submarine mission. The video highlighting the design was launched at this year’s NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Symposium, which was conducted from 27-29 January, 2015 at Cocoa Beach, Florida. The video introduces the viewers to the basic design of the proposed submarine mission that is expected to explore the vast seas of hydrocarbon on Titan’s surface. These seas are essentially made up of liquid methane and ethane. Whereas, another sub-design too was proposed to explore Titan’s largest northern sea, the ‘Kraken Mare’, which is also another giant body of liquid methane.
NASA’s latest announcement is in sync with its persistent objective of discovering the remnants of past interplanetary life. Also, an exploration as envisaged by NASA in its NIAC symposium might also hold clues to the origins of life on planet Earth. This may turn out to be possibly true, because Titan is a solar body that comes closest to the Earth in its kind of atmosphere and surface liquid bodies. Most peculiar is the fact that Titan is believed to experience methane cycles, just the same way as our Earth experiences a water cycle.
The mission has been envisaged as a 90 day unmanned mission, which would see a total distance coverage of about 1250 miles (approx. 2000 kilometers) in Titan’s methane seas. Since the submarine would be undermethane with no direct source of energy, it will have to rely on a special power generation mechanism that is designed to convert the heat produced by radioactive pellets into usable electricity. This same energy generation mechanism was also employed for the Cassini-Huygens mission.
However, energy generation might not be the only problems for the mission. As Titan’s methane seas are extremely cold, the submarine mission will require especial development of a piston driven system for preventing ballast freeze, a danger that could stall the grand mission planned for 2040.