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NASA Sending Nuclear-Powered Submarine, Robot to Saturn’s Moon Titan

titan (2)NASA is planning to send among other things one nuclear-powered submarine, submersible robot to explore a methane sea on Saturn’s moon Titan.

NASA shocased it at this year’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Symposium by its Glenn’s COMPASS Team and researchers from the Applied Research Lab.

“Measurement of the trace organic components of the sea, that may exhibit pre-biotic chemical evolution, will be an important objective,” the scientists said.

The one-tonne robot submarine is equipped with a seafloor camera and sampling system and it could fit into a space plane of the sixe of Boeing’s X-37 that was recently tested for a classified US Air Force mission.

The plane carrying the submarine could land on Kraken Mare, the largest known body of liquid on Titan that consists mostly of liquid methane, and try to drop the submarine using a parachute, reports said.

“The vehicle would use conventional propulsors to yaw around, using a sun sensor to determine the initial azimuth to Earth and begin communication using a terrestrial radio as a more precise reference,” said NASA on its website.

The autonomous submersible would be designed to make a 90-day, 2,000-kilometre voyage exploring the depths of this vast and very alien marine environment. Since communicating with Earth would not be possible when it is submerged, it would need to make regular ascents to the top to transmit data.

If successful, NASA’s submarine concept should become feasible entirely by 2047. “Measurement of the trace organic components of the sea, which perhaps may exhibit prebiotic chemical evolution, will be an important objective, and a benthic sampler (a robotic grabber to sample sediment) would acquire and analyse sediment from the seabed,” the US space agency said.

Teh submarine will also have for a sidescan sonar to study the historical cycles of filling and drying of Titan’s seas. Studies show that Titan’s active hydrological cycle may cause the north part of Kraken to be ‘fresher’ with more methane-rich than the south, and the submarine’s long traverse will explore these composition variations.

NASA’s mission to study Titan’s moons help scientists to know the Earth’s past. It is thought to be looking back in time at an embryonic Earth as Titan is the only moon in the solar system to have a significant atmosphere and this atmosphere is known to possess its own methane cycle, like Earth’s water cycle.

NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has extensively studied several seas during multiple flybys, some of which average a few metres deep, whereas others have depths of over 200 metres – the maximum depth at which Cassini’s radar instrument can penetrate.

So, if scientists are to properly explore Titan, they must find a way to dive into these seas to reveal their secrets.

NASA has chosen the submarine to explore the methane lakes of Titan in a competition. Besides using neutrinos to perform measurements for the icy moons of the outer planets and also a concept to safely capture a tumbling asteroid, space debris, and other applications are part of its future missions beyond low-Earth orbit, into deep space and to Mars, as outlined in the Evolvable Mars Campaign.


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