NASA Floats an Extraterrestrial Submarine Design

NASA’s advanced concepts division debuts its plans for an autonomous sub that would explore Titan’s hydrocarbon lakes.

NASA, Titan, rover, space, hydrocarbon, life submarine, droneSince the mid-2000s, when the Cassini-Huygens mission revealed that vast hydrocarbon oceans and cryovolcanoes exist on Saturn’s Titan, researchers have dreamed of visiting the far-flung moon. Now, after years of dreaming, NASA’s Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) have put forth an initial design for an autonomous sub that would explore the satellite’s largest sea, Kraken Mare.

While NASA’s sub concept still lacks a name, the Agency has already begun cobbling together specs for their new machine. Engineers say that their submersible rover will weigh somewhere in the neighborhood of 1 ton, and be driven by an electrical propulsion system. Given that the craft will be gliding through a frigid ocean of hydrocarbons, the craft will also carry a 1kW Stirling generator to keep its electrical components warm enough to operate. The generator will also provide the sub with propulsion, driving the craft at a lumbering 3.6km/h (2.2mph).

To relay data back to Earth the sub will be equipped with a dorsal mounted phased-array antenna. Once a day, for around 16 hours, the submersible will surface and begin beaming info back to Earth. While above Kraken’s surface the sub will also snap photos of its surroundings.

As it stands now, NIAC’s concept still has a number of technical hurdles to overcome, but there’s plenty of time to resolve design issues between now and the craft’s proposed launch date of 2040. Still, even with a 25 year lead time engineers are already designing the mission’s entry strategy.

NASA, Titan, rover, space, hydrocarbon, life submarine, drone

According to their current plans, NASA’s engineers envision their sub entering Titan’s atmosphere aboard a space-plane type craft. As the craft slows from its hypersonic entry speed, it will descend on a course that targets Titan’s largest hydrocarbon lake, Kraken Mare. Once at rest on the surface of Kraken Mare, the underbelly of the space-plane would open and release the sub to explore the depths of Titan’s liquid-methane wonder.

In the end, NASA researchers are interested in profiling Titan’s lakes not only to explore one of our Solar System’s true oddities, but to see if Kraken Mare contains any of the complex prebiotic compounds that give rise to life. If such compounds are found, scientists may move another step closer to understanding how life was catalyzed on Earth.

Source: NASA