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Concept Aquatic Rover May Explore a Lake On Titan

Soulskill posted about 2 years ago | from the also-may-not dept.

Space 47

cylonlover writes "Titan is Saturn's largest moon, and it's said to be one of the most Earth-like celestial bodies in the Solar System. It has a thick atmosphere, and is covered with a network of seas, lakes and rivers – albeit ones made up of liquid hydrocarbons instead of water. Now, a team of scientists are proposing sending a boat-like probe to Titan, that would travel across its largest lake. The probe, which is still in the concept stage, is known as TALISE – that stands for Titan Lake In-situ Sampling Propelled Explorer, although it's also an Iroquois word for 'beautiful water.' The plan calls for it to land in the middle of Ligeia Mare, which is near the moon's north pole. It would then set out on a six-month to one-year mission, taking scientific measurements and obtaining samples as it makes its way to the closest shore."

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That would be very cool (4, Insightful)

Brad1138 (590148) | about 2 years ago | (#41502401)

If they only get it done before I die (~40 years or so)

Re:That would be very cool (1)

Brad1138 (590148) | about 2 years ago | (#41502409)

No pun intended in the title :)

Re:That would be very cool (4, Informative)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41503093)

The previous proposed Titan floater mission (TiME) was rejected last month by NASA. Since this different design is being developed in Europe, I would assume they would pitch the idea to the ESA. There are two big problems: 1) the ESA doesn't have experience with RTGs and 2) the ESA doesn't have experience sending and controlling spacecraft to the outer planets. The best that they have done is the Huygens drop probe that was attached to Cassini and the ESA contribution to Ulysses. It is doable, but it would be extremely expensive since there is no in-house experience. Roskosmos isn't an option since they, like the ESA, have no RTG or outer planet exploration experience.

Only a NASA partnership could get this done with a reasonable budget and NASA doesn't want to do it. In my opinion, this design is nice, but it isn't going to happen unless NASA gets a big budget boost.

Re:That would be very cool (0)

tsa (15680) | about 2 years ago | (#41503995)

Or ESA has to convince NASA people with experience to come over and work for them.

Re:That would be very cool (1)

Zorpheus (857617) | about 2 years ago | (#41508195)

I would also mention Rosetta, which has done 2 flybys in the asteroid belt and will put a lander on a comet in two years. But of course Saturn is a lot farther away than that.

RTG not needed (1)

r00t (33219) | about 2 years ago | (#41509043)

Plenty of things do fine without solar, nuclear, or air. The obvious example is the Space Shuttle, using fuel cells. Swedish submarines use cryogenic liquid oxygen with diesel fuel to heat a Stirling engine. German submarines use hydrogen fuel cells.

If you wanted to bet that the lake really is liquid methane/ethane, you could just bring an oxidizer. You could even run a very fuel-rich piston engine.

Non-RTG nuclear is also possible. You have an entire lake of cooling fluid. You can use it as cooling for a traditional reactor or even make a nuclear jet engine.

(not that an RTG is exotic in 2012, nor that you couldn't just purchase that one part)

Plain old alkaline batteries work pretty well too, as long as you don't intend to do all that much work. Get some measurements, send them home, done!

Re:RTG not needed (1)

Cyberax (705495) | about 2 years ago | (#41509851)

Anything non-nuclear won't produce enough power for enough time on Titan. Classic nuclear reactor is even more complex and is a total overkill.

Anyway, RTGs are not a rocket science. They're basically are lumps of Plutonium or other isotope surrounded by thermocouples.

"enough power" (1)

r00t (33219) | about 2 years ago | (#41510777)

You're getting greedy. Make do with less. Each moment on the surface is less valuable than the preceeding moment. An hour on the surface, without even moving, is pretty damn useful. It probably gets you 90% of the value of spending a year roving around.

Re:"enough power" (1)

Cyberax (705495) | about 2 years ago | (#41510789)

We already did this with the Huygens/Cassini probe.

Re:That would be very cool (1)

Darth Snowshoe (1434515) | about 2 years ago | (#41509961)

Oh God am I depressed that NASA's TiME mission didn't get funded! It would have been ten times cooler than the mission they ended up with. Discovery class missions were meant to be riskier than other larger classes of missions. But as the Discovery mission starts get fewer and fewer, inevitably the tolerance to risk goes down.

Re:That would be very cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41504961)

Then please support human life extension research.

Re:That would be very cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41505119)

Please support sudden increase to the existing overpopulation problems.

Re:That would be very cool (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41508783)

Please read data that suggests that birth rate is declining. And why would you assume that people that live longer will suddenly start having litters like cats?

Re:That would be very cool (1)

RaceProUK (1137575) | about 2 years ago | (#41511805)

Please provide references to back up your claim.

This is not news for nerds or stuff that matters. (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41502419)

Almost anything *may* happen and scientists are always *proposing* things. Wake me when this progresses past the "brain-fart in a first-year student's daydream" stage.

Re:This is not news for nerds or stuff that matter (2)

boundary (1226600) | about 2 years ago | (#41502553)

I think we're unlikely to wake you. But not for the reason you think.

Landing (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41502533)

I would think a water landing might also be much easier than trying to land on on soil/rock?

Re:Landing (-1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41502549)

Titan doesn't have water.

Re:Landing (1)

lxs (131946) | about 2 years ago | (#41504747)

Yes is does. Of course any water that is found there will be frozen to the point of being indistinguishable from rock.
On that point, shouldn't the thing be called a methanic rover?

Re:Landing (1)

boundary (1226600) | about 2 years ago | (#41502575)

Mostly liquid ethane, methane and propane, rather than water. But yeah, one would think a splashdown would be more forgiving.

Re:Landing (1)

Tablizer (95088) | about 2 years ago | (#41502715)

They may have to design it for a land-based landing in case it misses the liquid target. Plus it may hit an iceberg or the like.

(Hitting an iceberg on Titan...ic, pun fun.)

Re:Landing (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 2 years ago | (#41507987)

Icebergs exist because of a property of water that is somewhat unique, where the solid form has a lower density than the liquid form. That is exaggerated even further with water because the "solid" water (Arctic ice sheets as well as calving from glaciers) is generally free of salt but the salt concentration in liquid water tends to have an even higher density than ordinary fresh water... giving additional buoyancy thus letting those "icebergs" float in the liquid of the oceans on the Earth.

That we live in a world where the temperatures on this planet hover near the freezing point of water makes this a common experience as well, or at least something routine to be seeing in everyday life or when you drink a glass of "ice water", lemonade, or Coca-Cola.

Somehow I doubt that Titan will have anything like that, as I don't think frozen Ethane is going to be a problem on Titan. If there are Ethane glaciers though, it would certainly be an interesting experience.

BTW, I love the joke though, if the proposal was for something larger than a rowboat that would be traveling at speeds greater than about 5-10 knots.

Why... (4, Interesting)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41502623)

... don't we have a rover on the bottom of our own planets oceans?

Re:Why... (0)

Brad1138 (590148) | about 2 years ago | (#41502795)

I think you need to go home now.

Re:Why... (1)

kermidge (2221646) | about 2 years ago | (#41503629)

Good question. The answer might have something to do with pressure. If you're curious, you have some interesting reading in store. Another question: why would we want to explore there? That can get even more interesting.

Re:Why... (1)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41504505)

Probably doesn't help that the bottom of the ocean in a lot of places is covered in silk and organic material that would be really difficult to rove over. As far as autonomous submersibles, there is a lot of work going on with those. The problem is they would need to last a long time or be really cheap. Otherwise, they face competition from other observation methods, like buoys and remote controlled submersibles. It is kind of like asking why don't we have autonomous rovers on land either, where we are more likely to just send a geologist, and most work on autonomous "roving" is special case stuff like self-driving cars.

Re:Why... (1)

Nf1nk (443791) | about 2 years ago | (#41506247)

It turns out to be really hard to comunicate with stuff on the bottom of the ocean. Salt water absorbs RF like crazy at useful frequencies. ULF works but has an abysmal data rate. This means you either hang your submersible on a tether or let it go black and operate fully independently for long periods and surface to report back.
There are a ton of unmanned craft using both methods.

Not the first boat on Titan (4, Informative)

Tablizer (95088) | about 2 years ago | (#41502689)

The Europe-built Huygens probe that landed on Titan a few years ago was designed to float in case it had landed on liquid (solid land by luck of the draw). However, it only was designed for a very limited life-time in order to keep it small.

Most "earth-like"? (1)

Dan East (318230) | about 2 years ago | (#41502701)

That's based on a rather narrow and specific definition of what it means to be "earth-like". In human terms, there are many other bodies on the solar system on which we (and any other kind of life as we know it) could live on far easier than Titan.

Re:Most "earth-like"? (1)

mister_playboy (1474163) | about 2 years ago | (#41504165)

Titan's atmosphere is certainly closer to Earth's in general physical properties (mass and composition) than any other atmosphere in the Solar System. I would probably place Venus' next closest.

I also think it is distinctive for being a terrestrial body with significant amounts of liquid matter on the surface. All other bodies only have surface-level liquids as temporary phenomenon.

If you consider a basic concept of having "land, sea, and air", Titan rates closer to Earth than anything else I can think of. It's just all at much lower temperatures.

Re:Most "earth-like"? (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 2 years ago | (#41508063)

Titan is the only other place in the Solar System that we know of with an active hydrological system of rivers, channels, rain, and active erosion from that liquid. While not a perfect analogy to the Earth, the mere fact that some other place in the universe that we can also get to with existing technology exists is plenty of reason for going there alone. That a second hydrological system can be used for comparison enables all sorts of scientific theories to be tested simply because it allows for comparison and contrasts, and for a data set that is greater than one data point.

So much of what we think happens on the Earth is based upon the premise that what we see is the only way it can happen. If we can compare to other places and see what is happening there, it can certainly broaden our understanding of these kind of systems.

Mars apparently used to have some active rivers, which is one of the things that the Curiosity rover is checking out right now. The problem is that those rivers are no longer present, so it is like finding a dry river in a desert and trying to understand characteristics of that stream after it has dried up. Venus and the Moon (as well as Mars and the Earth) also have some "channels" where lava flowed giving some additional data points for hydrological systems. The lava flows on Venus are particularly interesting because they are quite long and seem to be long-lived as well. Still, it will be much easier to send a probe to Titan than to design something which will try to not only survive on the surface of Venus but attempt to take samples from molten rock as it flows by. That is hard enough to do in Hawaii, much less on another planet.

Missing something (1)

EdIII (1114411) | about 2 years ago | (#41503341)

Titan Lake In-situ Sampling Propelled Explorer

TALISE

Somebody failed with the acronyms. Is that with or without the P? Either way the word does not seem to exist and the closest match is a congenital defect.......

Re:Missing something (1)

tbird81 (946205) | about 2 years ago | (#41504149)

It's also an Iroquois word for "beautiful water."

Re:Missing something (1)

Guignol (159087) | about 2 years ago | (#41504639)

Exactly what I was going to post but I checked first somebody else wouldn't be puzzled as well
I think we should create the Association For Removal Of Broken Acronyms (AZRABOA) which also means 'WTF ??' in ancient Klingon

Boat-like? (3, Interesting)

brisk0 (2644101) | about 2 years ago | (#41503347)

I suppose not every goal is finding extra-terrestrial life, but I almost feel like this is missing the real opportunity on Titan. This is a planet with both lakes of hydrocarbons and volcanic activity, theoretically perfect for life (admittedly neglecting H_2O). Surely a submarine would be more useful than a boat? Wouldn't we rather explore the depths and try to find primitive life where it is most likely to be created (by my admittedly limited understanding of abiogenesis theories)?

Re:Boat-like? (1)

sumdumass (711423) | about 2 years ago | (#41503567)

The amount and type of power needed for a sub might pose a problem without something on the surface. Perhaps the first priority might be to get there and see how long we can last, then use the boat as a relay for communications or something.

Re:Boat-like? (2)

O('_')O_Bush (1162487) | about 2 years ago | (#41503571)

Maybe one day, but a boat is much easier to build and send to another planet than a submersible is. All a boat requires is a film and lighter-than-hydrocarbon gas, while a submersible requires pressure/liquid proofing, some ability to maintain neutral buoyancy, and some way to transmit information back through a medium thicker than the atmosphere.

Re:Boat-like? (1)

Sigg3.net (886486) | about 2 years ago | (#41505659)

RTFM.

"rover -d OPTION
  Deploy equipment (if specified with --exec, else --test is used) from toolbox; OPTIONS are sonar, periscope, depth sensor, temp sensor (...) fishing rod"

Duh!

Re:Boat-like? (0)

Anonymous Coward | about 2 years ago | (#41510323)

Maybe something like an Argo float. There are thousands of these sensing Earth's oceans. They drop beneath the surface, collect data, and intermittently return to the surface to transmit. They are a fairly simple technology, but work well.

Boat-like probe (1)

fustakrakich (1673220) | about 2 years ago | (#41503837)

They're calling it the Titanic.

Europa would be way bettter.. (1)

ihaveamo (989662) | about 2 years ago | (#41503981)

I am still waiting for a Europa ocean-going mission. That's the best chance of finding other life in the solar system. We need some sort of easy way to melt through the ice layer, though. (Maybe slowly, though radioactivity?). I suppose that would make the probe more of a submarine than a boat though.

Accuracy of proposed weight. (1)

tbird81 (946205) | about 2 years ago | (#41504169)

I'm going to complain here, because no-one else cares...

One of my pet hates is that when the media publishes a measurement, they will give both metric and imperial, and will calculate it to ridiculous significant figures.

For instance, this imaginary robot might weigh, you know, round about 100 kilo - which is 220.5 lbs! Yep, they know know the measurements to the nearest 10th of a pound, but coincidentally it happens to be a really round figure in metric terms.

Rant over. Feel free to ignore.

Re:Accuracy of proposed weight. (1)

mister_playboy (1474163) | about 2 years ago | (#41504295)

1 foot is exactly 12 inches.
1 pound is exactly 0.45359237 kg.

Significant figures do not apply to unit definitions, as I recall... :)

Re:Accuracy of proposed weight. (1)

Teancum (67324) | about 2 years ago | (#41508111)

100 kilograms == 220 pounds.... give or take.

I agree that uncalled for rounding when doing unit conversions in popular media articles is something that needs to be mentioned and criticized. The point is that the author is attempting to give a comparison for people unfamiliar with the other measurement unit into something they are familiar. They should stick with a couple digits of accuracy and get the correct order of magnitude.

Would they do the same thing if they were trying to convert the price of something in Yen and then try to explain how much it cost in Dollars? Sadly, that even happens, such as reporting what something costing a million Yen would be in Dollars.

This should be a Duck. (1)

bobs666 (146801) | about 2 years ago | (#41506439)

A Duck being a craft that goes on land and liquid. Where a body of water may be interesting, One should not pass up the ability to go ashore. If the Atmosphere will support it a balloon hover craft would access both land and ocean.

Concept Aquetic (1)

nischal360 (2713011) | about 2 years ago | (#41511123)

Aquetic comment
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