Many of us have sailed the Earth's lakes, bays and rivers. But, imagine sailing on an extraterrestrial sea of liquid methane-ethane a billion miles from Earth. This is the kind of idea that makes science fiction so interesting. Yet, this may not be fiction at all.Related Links Launchspace Explore The Ring World of Saturn and her moonsJupiter and its MoonsThe million outer planets of a star called SolNews Flash at Mercury
Under its Discovery Program NASA is currently conducting a contest among three science teams. One team will be selected for a 2016 mission.
Possible choices are
(1) investigation of the interior of Mars for the first time,
(2) measurement of the environmental factors on one of Titan's oceans and
(3) study the surface of a comet's nucleus in great detail.
Well. We have been to Mars many times and we have studied comets at length in recent years. But, we have never placed an Earth-made spacecraft on a sea outside the earth's environment, let alone on a moon of Saturn. Wow!
TiME, the Titan Mare Explorer, is designed to do just that. If selected by NASA, a U.S. science and mission team will develop a small interplanetary spacecraft that can travel from Earth to Saturn.
As it approaches this outer planet, about a billion miles from earth, TiME will be targeted to make a direct entry into Titan's atmosphere. After initial entry a series of parachutes will lower the spacecraft to a slow splashdown on Ligeia Mare (78 degrees N, 250 degrees W), one of the largest known lakes of Titan with a surface area of about 100,000 km".
Liftoff from Earth would take place in 2016 and TiME would splashdown in 2023. Science objectives on Titan include determining the chemistry and depth of the sea, how the local meteorology varies on diurnal timescales and properties of the atmosphere above the sea.
Titan's thick atmosphere and the sun's distance rule out the use of solar panels. Thus, TiME would be the test flight for the new Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator (ASRG).
TiME will communicate directly with Earth until 2026, when Earth finally sinks below the horizon as seen from Ligeia. Earthrise will occur again in 2035.
And who said: Nothing exciting is happening at NASA?