Titan

At NASA, work on more near and far space missions is going on almost constantly. However, some scientists are engaged in preparing concepts for space missions that will not be possible for a very long time. On the one hand, the authors of such concepts do not have to limit themselves to today’s technologies, and on the other hand, they nevertheless try to indicate the direction in which science should go.

Once again, NASA has selected within the framework of the Innovative Advanced Concepts program several concepts presenting futuristic technology for future use in the exploration of the Solar System. Some of them will certainly never get beyond the conceptual stage, but it is possible that a few will nestle in the minds of scientists and sooner or later become reality.

Each of the 14 selected teams received a $175,000 grant from the agency to further develop their concept. By analyzing the results of the work, NASA will see if any of the technologies developed would actually be useful in the coming decades.

To fly over or swim in Titan’s seas – that is the… nevermind

The project that stirs the imagination the most is the one prepared by Quinn Morley of Planet Enterprises. According to the TitanAir space mission project, NASA would send a device that is a hybrid of an airplane and a boat to Saturn’s largest moon. TitanAir would fly over the surface of methane lakes in the Northern Hemisphere of the globe, occasionally landing on them and sailing for a longer or shorter period of time.

On the one hand, such an idea seems completely crazy, but on the other hand, we must remember that we are no longer in the 1990s, when NASA first tried to plant a small rover (Sojourner) on the surface of Mars. For we are living in a time when an Ingenuity drone has been successfully flying over the surface of Mars for a year and a half, and – what’s more – in a time when a Dragonfly mission is being prepared at NASA, which will just fly a large drone to Titan, which, taking advantage of the dense atmosphere of Saturn’s moon, will cover miles in the air exploring this fantastic, frigid globe dotted with lakes of liquid hydrocarbons.

In this context, suddenly the TitanAir mission no longer seems as futuristic as at first glance. Indeed, it looks more like an evolution rather than a revolution of existing technology.

We have to wait a little longer

Yes, Dragonfly won’t even touch the methane lakes, because it will be in a completely different part of Titan. This just might be a whole new challenge – to deliver a space probe to the surface of any liquid reservoir on the surface of another globe. Any way you look at it, we’ve never done anything like this before. Why? Well, as it happens, in the entire Solar System, liquid lakes are currently found only on Earth and Titan. The end. There is nothing else. And considering that only the Huygens lander has so far reached Titan, we have exactly zero experience with extraterrestrial reservoirs.

Of course, one of the biggest incentives to explore such reservoirs is the potential for some form of life to exist there. Yes, if a space probe discovered life in Titan’s lakes, it would be extremely different from us. The entire biology of such life would have to be based on completely different compounds and completely different processes. Such a discovery would also have a much broader significance.

This is because it would turn out that there can be many different forms of life in the universe, that not all life must rely on or require water to exist. This, in turn – when translated on a larger cosmic scale – would mean that life could exist not only on Earth-like planets, not only on planets existing in the ecospheres of their stars, but also on billions of others hitherto ignored by astrobiologists. The chances that the universe is teeming with life would automatically increase, and dramatically so.

By Rad Kos

Author of OuterSpace24. Astronomy communicator. Writing daily about space since 2015. Over 6000 news articles under the belt.