NASA is planning to send a nuclear-powered submarine to explore one of the methane seas located on Saturn’s moon Titan. The single-tonne concept robot submarine is equipped with a seafloor camera and sampling system.
The submarine could fit into a space plane such as Boeing’s X-37, which was recently used for a classified Air Force mission.
The plane could land on Kraken Mare, the largest known body of liquid on Titan that consists mostly of liquid methane, or possibly drop the submarine using a parachute, ‘ibtimes.com’ reported.
“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,” NASA said.
NASA hopes to use the submarine to explore the chemistry of Titan’s seafloor and sea composition, as well as study its tides, weather, shoreline, islands and search for any type of life.
The submarine concept was showcased by NASA Glenn’s COMPASS Team and researchers from Applied Research Lab at the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Symposium in Florida.
The concept of the submarine is still in its very early stages, but the team expects that it may be up and running 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 explained.
These measurements, and seafloor morphology via sidescan sonar, may shed light on the historical cycles of filling and drying of Titan’s seas.
Models suggest Titan’s active hydrological cycle may cause the north part of Kraken to be ‘fresher’ (more methane-rich) than the south, and the submarine’s long traverse will explore these composition variations.