NASA unveils possible submarine design for exploring liquid methane seas on Titan (w/ Video)

February 12, 2015 by Bob Yirka report

(Phys.org)—NASA has unveiled at this year's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Symposium (and posted a video on Youtube) a possible design for a submersible robot for use in exploring the liquid methane/ethane seas on Saturn's moon Titan. The video and sub design were created by NASA Glenn's COMPASS Team along with some researchers from Applied Research Lab. The call for the design came from workers with the NASA NIAC Program, which of course is tasked with coming up with ideas for new ways to explore space and the celestial bodies in it.

The sub, which the team has dubbed the Titan Submarine Phase I Conceptual Design, looks reminiscent of early subs on Earth such as those developed for use in the Civil War. The technology onboard, would be anything but old, of course, as it would have to be able to operate mostly autonomously in a very hostile and distant environment.

The most likely place for deployment of the sub would be Kraken Mare—Titan's largest polar sea. Data from probes has found that the sea covers approximately 154,000 square miles with depths as deep as 525 feet. The sea is not idle, either—it has currents and a tide, both of which could make keeping the sub safe from harm a serious challenge. There would also be the problem of communicating with it. The researchers envision a system where the sub surfaces for 16 hours at a time, sending signals directly to Earth (which would take almost an hour and a half to get here). As an undersea vehicle, it would not be able to use solar power either, so the team envisions a radiothermal Stirling generator for propulsion. Also, because of the extreme cold, a special piston driven type of system would have to be developed to prevent freezing of (likely nitrogen) ballast. Though it is still not clear exactly what the sub might be looking for, one sure bet is it would be searching for compounds that might indicate life once existed in the sea or perhaps offer clues as to how life began back here on Earth.

NASA expects some sort of sub might be ready for a journey to Titan by 2040, which would mark the first time such a mission has not been conducted on dry land. To get it there, they envision a winged craft that makes its way to the surface, then sinks beneath the waves on Kraken Mare, leaving the sub to discover what lies beneath.

Explore further: Cassini sails into new ocean adventures on Titan

More information: Titan Submarine : Vehicle Design and Operations Concept for the Exploration of the Hydrocarbon Seas of Saturn's Giant Moon (PDF) - www.hou.usra.edu/meetings/lpsc2015/pdf/1259.pdf

Related Stories

Cassini sails into new ocean adventures on Titan

November 11, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA's Cassini mission continues its adventures in extraterrestrial oceanography with new findings about the hydrocarbon seas on Saturn's moon Titan. During a flyby in August, the spacecraft sounded the depths ...

Cassini sees sunny seas on Titan

October 30, 2014

(Phys.org) —As it soared past Saturn's large moon Titan recently, NASA's Cassini spacecraft caught a glimpse of bright sunlight reflecting off hydrocarbon seas.

Cassini nears 100th Titan flyby with a look back

March 6, 2014

(Phys.org) —Ten years ago, we knew Titan as a fuzzy orange ball about the size of Mercury. We knew it had a nitrogen atmosphere—the only known world with a thick nitrogen atmosphere besides Earth. But what might lie beneath ...

Cassini watches mysterious feature evolve in Titan sea

September 29, 2014

(Phys.org) —NASA's Cassini spacecraft is monitoring the evolution of a mysterious feature in a large hydrocarbon sea on Saturn's moon Titan. The feature covers an area of about 100 square miles (260 square kilometers) in ...

Recommended for you

NASA telescope studies quirky comet 45P

November 22, 2017

When comet 45P zipped past Earth early in 2017, researchers observing from NASA's Infrared Telescope Facility, or IRTF, in Hawai'i gave the long-time trekker a thorough astronomical checkup. The results help fill in crucial ...

Uncovering the origins of galaxies' halos

November 21, 2017

Using the Subaru Telescope atop Maunakea, researchers have identified 11 dwarf galaxies and two star-containing halos in the outer region of a large spiral galaxy 25 million light-years away from Earth. The findings, published ...

Cassini image mosaic: A farewell to Saturn

November 21, 2017

In a fitting farewell to the planet that had been its home for over 13 years, the Cassini spacecraft took one last, lingering look at Saturn and its splendid rings during the final leg of its journey and snapped a series ...

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.