Cruising the Lakes of Titan
The Mars Rover has gotten a lot of attention, both for its design and the fantastic photos it’s been sending back to Earth, but there are plenty of places in our solar system where the Rover wouldn’t work so well. Take the large ethane and methane lakes on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, where a group of European scientists hope to land an aquatic equivalent of the Rover.
The Titan Lake In-situ Sampling Propelled Explorer (TALISE) would be targeted at the moon’s largest lake (Ligeia Mare). In late September, the TALISE team made a presentation at the European Planetary Science Congress outlining a potentially year-long mission to probe the moon’s atmosphere and the composition of the lakes. Titan is considered the most “Earth-like” destination in the solar system, with an active atmosphere and weather very much like ours (albeit with liquid methane instead of water).
The team is still determining just what the boat would look like; it could conceivably be moved through the lake using paddle wheels, screw propulsion or inflatable wheels. SENER and Centro de Astrobiologia in Spain are working on the design.
“The main innovation in TALISE is the propulsion system. This allows the probe to move, under control, from the landing site in the lake, to the closest shore. The displacement capability would achieve the obtaining of liquid and solid samples from several scientific interesting locations on Titan’s surface such as the landing place, along the route towards the shore and finally at the shoreline.” — Igone Urdampilleta, SENER
Other potential designs that were rejected included tank wheels, air or liquid propellers, or a hovercraft model.
NASA sent a probe to Titan in 2005, but it transmitted for just 90 minutes after touchdown. The agency also proposed the Titan Mare Explore (TiME), a lander that would have probed the moon’s lakes, but the project was passed over for funding in 2011.