One of Saturn’s satellites, Titan, is probably the most fascinating rocky celestial body in our solar system: with lakes, rivers and seas it is one of the main targets of future scientific missions. A research team from NASA’s Glenn Research Center would even like to send you a submarine.
The project is still totally theoretical, but it has greatly impressed NASA top management both for the audacity and for the concreteness of the mission: the program Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) of the American agency seeks to stimulate the development of potentially revolutionary ideas for exploration and cutting-edge technologies, selecting among the various candidates the brightest projects – but at the same time concrete.
Steven Oleson and his team came up with the bizarre idea of building a real one submarine to study the depths of Titan in depth. The mission – as conceived by Oleson and his staff – could be developed in two ways: the first involves the launch of a submarine weighing about 1500kg and about 5 meters, equipped not only with many scientific instruments, but also with a built-in weather station and obviously an integrated module for sending signals to Earth; the second version, on the other hand, includes a much smaller submarine (just 2 meters and weighing no more than 550kg) combined with a orbiter, capable of picking up the vehicle signal and then re-transmitting it to our planet.
Although Titan’s oceans and surface lakes are mostly composed of hydrocarbons (and not from water), the submarine could still have an easy life: the radio signals would pass through the fluid medium smoothly, and the pressure even in depth would not exert a great force, as Titan’s gravity is reduced to 14% of Earth’s. Such a vehicle would also make it possible to better study the possible seas of water beneath the planet’s surface, where organic compounds and perhaps even cellular microorganisms are hidden.
Finally, the project foresees that the submarine is almost necessarily a nuclear propulsion, as Saturn’s moon is too far away to guarantee a reliable supply of solar energy and, in the depths of the water, the light radiation (as well as on Earth) is very low.
If the project sees the light, and is financed by NASA, there would be only the problem of launching the mission to avoid that Titano is in a non-optimal position due to its seasons and sun exposure differences between summer and winter. The departure should take place no later than 2038 counting that a journey to Saturn takes about 7 years, otherwise we would have to wait another three decades, or after 2060.
Titan seems to be moving frightfully away from Saturn, much more than assumed.