The Mars Rover may get all the publicity, but there’s more to space exploration than Earth’s closest neighbor. Case in point: Saturn’s moon, Titan. Remarkably Earth-like complete with a dense atmosphere, NASA has long-expressed interest in exploring the depths of the moon’s methane sea, the Kraken Mare. Now, NASA’s provided more clues as to how a specially designed submarine might go about doing so.
Unveiled at this year’s Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Symposium, the concept submarine vehicle offers a glimpse at the reality of exploring extreme conditions on distant planets. For starters, the craft would require a unique power source, as it would be exploring areas typically untouched by sunlight. Spacecrafts Cassini and Curiosity already employ systems that turn radioactive pellets into sunlight, which would also be a viable option for the submarine. It would also need to be extremely durable – the Kraken’s methane depths register at just 90 degrees Kelvin (water freezes at about 273 degrees Kelvin).
The sub would also need to act something like a dolphin or whale, in that it would need to periodically surface throughout it’s 1,250 mile journey in order to beam information back to Earth, likely for about 16 hours at a time.
Though no doubt lifeless at this point, Titan (and specifically the Kraken Mare) could reveal fascinating insights into how life may have once existed there, or how life formed on Earth. The sub’s job would be to collect samples from the atmosphere, sea and seafloor, analyzing them and looking for compounds that may indicate the origins of life.
From NASA’s paper:
“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 would acquire and analyze sediment from the seabed. These measurements, and seafloor morphology via sidescan sonar, may shed light on the historical cycles of filling and drying of Titan’s seas.”
Sadly, such an actual mission won’t get off the ground until at least 2040. In the meantime, NASA also intends to design a similar submarine device to explore Jupiter’s moon Europa, yet another faraway, vaguely Earth-like natural satellite.