December 19, 2009
Saturn's most famous moon, Titan, may be getting a visit from earth in the semi-near future. In case you're unaware, Titan is cool because it has a lot of things that earth has - liquid lakes and seas, a weather system complete with rain and wind. Of all the places in our solar system, Titan is the most similar to earth in many respects. Now, of course, since Titan is orbiting Saturn, it is far from being in the Goldilocks zone, and is very, very cold, so it doesn't rain water and its seas aren't made of water.
We could still learn all kinds of cool things from Titan. If, for example, we learn that weather patterns behave similarily on Titan, we can use that data here on earth. The group proposing this most recent trip would also use the trip to test a new type of power that is supposedly more efficient than the power they currently use on space exploration.
The other great thing about this trip? By NASA standards, it would be dirt cheap.
Scientists got a few brief hours worth of data back from Titan's land surface in 2005 when the Huygens probe touched down in an equatorial region of the moon.
Now a number of those same researchers are desperate to go back for a longer-lived stay, but to investigate this time the huge pools that contain methane, ethane, propane and probably many other types of hydrocarbon (carbon-rich) compounds.
The Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) has already been under study for about two years. It is envisaged as a relatively low-cost endeavour - in the low $400m range.
It could launch in January 2016, and make some flybys of Earth and Jupiter to pick up the gravitational energy it would need to head straight at the Saturnian moon for a splash down in June 2023.
Of course, Big O's administration hasn't appeared to be very friendly to NASA, and, as I noted a while ago, the new NASA budget doesn't allow for any programs to be created without approval from the Congress, so this may be short-lived. But damn, if it wouldn't be fucking cool.
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