Navigating the seas of Titan
Humanity has landed a rover on Mars. Now, say scientists, it’s time to land a boat on Titan. This outlandish scenario could become reality, according to engineers presenting their proposals at the European Planetary Science Congress on 27 September.
Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, is one of the most Earth-like bodies in the Solar System. With a thick atmosphere, a diameter between that of Earth and the planet Mercury, and a network of seas, lakes and rivers, it is in many respects more like a planet than a moon like the Earth’s.
The Cassini-Huygens mission, which studied Titan extensively in the 2000s, confirmed that lakes, seas and rivers of liquid hydrocarbons (similar to household gas) exist, covering much of the satellite’s northern hemisphere. Although it eventually landed on solid ground, the Hugyens lander was designed to be able to float for a short period.
The new plans, called the Titan Lake In-situ Sampling Propelled Explorer, proposes a boat-probe, propelled by wheels, paddles or screws. The probe would land in the middle of Ligeia Mare (the biggest lake, near Titan’s north pole), then set sail for the coast, taking scientific measurements along the way. The mission would last around six months to a year.
“The main innovation in TALISE is the propulsion system,” says Igone Urdampilleta (SENER), 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.”
Titan’s environment is too cold for life as we know it, but its environment, rich in the building blocks of life, is of great interest to astrobiologists. The satellite’s atmosphere is made up largely of nitrogen (like Earth’s), is rich in organic compounds and hydrogen cyanide, which may have played a role in the emergence of life on Earth.
The TALISE concept is being developed as a partnership between SENER and the Centro de Astrobiología in Madrid, Spain. This mission concept is the result of a ‘Phase 0’ study. In the following phases the feasibility study and a preliminary mission architecture would be realised to consolidate a possible technical proposal for future space science mission call.
Igone Urdampilleta (will only be at conference on 27 Sep)
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Wheeled concept for TALISE probe
This rendering of the proposed TALISE probe shows one possible means of propulsion: wheels on either side of the probe.
Screw concept for TALISE probe
This rendering of the proposed TALISE probe shows one possible means of propulsion: screws on either side of the probe.
Paddle concept for TALISE probe
This rendering of the proposed TALISE probe shows one possible means of propulsion: paddle wheels on either side of the probe.
SENER is a private engineering and technology group founded in 1956, which seeks to offer its clients the most advanced technological solutions and which enjoys international recognition, thanks to its independence and its commitment to innovation and quality. SENER has a workforce of more than 5,200 professionals and a turnover of €1.16 billion (2011 figures). SENER engages in the specific activities of Engineering and Construction, and also has industrial holdings in companies involved in Energy and Environment, as well as in Aeronautics.
SENER is a global leader in the Space industry, with over 208 devices launched to date in 48 satellites and space vehicles: for the space agencies of the US (NASA), Europe (ESA), Japan (JAXA) and Russia (Roscosmos), all without a single recorded failure. Its latest noteworthy projects include the Solar Orbiter joint mission between NASA and the ESA, a scientific satellite for studying the sun’s upper latitudes and poles, where SENER provided the entire antenna subsystem, along with other components; and NASA’s Mars Science Laboratory mission, where SENER supplied the pointing mechanism for the antenna, which enables bi-directional communication between the rover Curiosity and the mission’s tracking stations on Earth. Curiosity successfully reached Mars’ surface on August 6, and since then its broadband communication with Earth has been functioning normally thanks to the precision of SENER’s mechanism.
EUROPEAN PLANETARY SCIENCE CONGRESS 2012
The European Planetary Science Congress (EPSC) is the major European meeting on planetary science and attracts scientists from Europe and around the World. The 2012 programme includes more than 50 sessions and workshops. The EPSC has a distinctively interactive style, with a mix of talks, workshops and posters, intended to provide a stimulating environment for discussion.
This year’s meeting will take place at the IFEMA-Feria de Madrid, Spain, from Sunday 23 September to Friday 28 September 2012. EPSC 2012 is organised by Europlanet, a Research Infrastructure funded under the European Commission’s Framework 7 Programme, in association with the European Geosciences Union, with the support of the Centro de Astrobiología of Spain’s Instituto Nacional de Técnica Aeroespacial (CAB-INTA).
Details of the Congress and a full schedule of EPSC 2012 scientific sessions and events can be found at the official website: http://www.epsc2012.eu/
The Europlanet Research Infrastructure is a major (€6 million) programme co-funded by the European Union under the Seventh Framework Programme of the European Commission.
The Europlanet Research Infrastructure brings together the European planetary science community through a range of Networking Activities, aimed at fostering a culture of cooperation in the field of planetary sciences, Transnational Access Activities, providing European researchers with access to a range of laboratory and field site facilities tailored to the needs of planetary research, as well as on-line access to the available planetary science data, information and software tools, through the Integrated and Distributed Information Service. These programmes are underpinned by Joint Research Activities, which are developing and improving the facilities, models, software tools and services offered by Europlanet RI.
Europlanet Project website: www.europlanet-ri.eu
Europlanet Outreach website: www.europlanet-eu.org/outreach
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