"We need a Titan-dedicated orbiter" - TSSM plan to send an orbiter and balloon to Saturn's moon Titan

Friday, November 07, 2008

Titan compared to the Earth.

You can read about a really ambitious plan to send a probe to Saturn's moon Titan here. The most interesting part of the mission is a balloon that would float over the surface of the moon and make observations that otherwise couldn't be made from above the atmosphere. Titan is an especially easy place to send a balloon because it has the following characteristics:
Surface gravity: 14% of Earth
Atmospheric pressure: 1.6 bars, 60% greater than Earth
That's the reason why you hear the example from time to time that a human on Titan with a pair of wings would be able to simply flap them and fly away. The source for this given on Wikipedia is the following:
Robert Zubrin, Entering Space: Creating a Spacefaring Civilization, section: Titan, pp. 163-166, Tarcher/Putnam, 1999, ISBN 978-1-58542-036-0
So given that, it's remarkably easy to fly a balloon there. It's also remarkably easy to fly things above the surface of Venus as well and there is also the benefit of 24 hours of sunlight if you have a solar flyer that can always stay in the sunlit area, but a craft also needs to be fitted against the acidic atmosphere. Either way, both targets are easy to fly over.

Here's what the article says:
Called TSSM – the Titan and Saturn System Mission – this three-tiered approach to exploration could shed more light on the still-mysterious moon.


"Titan is the best place to go with a balloon because of the atmosphere," says Coustenis. Although the atmosphere of Titan is filled with a smoggy orange hydrocarbon haze, it is primarily composed of nitrogen – just like Earth's. In fact, Astrobiologists think Titan's atmosphere may be quite similar to how the Earth's was billions of years ago, before life on our planet generated oxygen.
It wouldn't just be buffeted around by the winds though:
She says that to move around, the TSSM probe could be outfitted with a helicopter rotor that would allow it to fly from place to place. The probe design also may include floaters that would prevent it from sinking if it landed on one of Titan's hydrocarbon lakes.
Unfortunately it's not expected to happen for quite some time:
Some may think the TSSM is too risky a mission, since hot air balloons and probes that float on liquid have never before been sent to alien worlds. But Coustenis says our exploration efforts beyond Earth always need to be on the cutting edge.

"Why would we want to have a new mission unless we were going to do something original with it?" she asks. "(This mission) is challenging, but it's do-able. Even if it is a crazy idea, we shouldn't keep sending the same kinds of missions out there."

NASA and ESA are working in cooperation to develop an outer planets mission, and they are expected to choose between TSSM and a mission to Jupiter and its moon Europa in early 2009. Whichever mission they choose, the projected launch date is around 2020, with an arrival around 2030.
Yikes, 22 years from now. Those of us who are interested in space development tend to hope when we see these amazingly far-off dates that some groundbreaking technological development will occur before then so that we don't have to wait decades for interesting missions like these to happen.


  © Blogger templates Newspaper by Ourblogtemplates.com 2008

Back to TOP