Named after a legendary sea monster, Kraken Mare is believed to be the largest body of liquid on the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan. Discovered by the Cassini probe in 2007, it extends nearly 150,000 square miles across the moon’s north-polar region and is made of liquified hydrocarbons. According to a conference presentation given at the 2015 NASA Institute for Advanced Concepts (NIAC) Symposium, NASA hopes to send a submarine to explore the frigid methane sea by 2040.
“We propose to develop a conceptual design of a submersible autonomous vehicle (submarine) to explore extraterrestrial seas. Specifically, to send a submarine to Titan’s largest northern sea, Kraken Mare. This craft will autonomously carry out detailed scientific investigations under the surface of Kraken Mare, providing unprecedented knowledge of an extraterrestrial sea and expanding NASA’s existing capabilities in planetary exploration to include in situ nautical operations. Sprawling over some 1,000 kilometers, with depths estimated at 300 meters, Kraken Mare is comparable in size to the Great Lakes, and represents an opportunity for an unprecedented planetary exploration mission,” Steven Oleson of NASA Glenn Research Center said last June.
A new video animation showing a conceptual Titan submarine in action has been created for the NIAC program and posted to NASA Glenn Research Center’s You Tube page at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NnKxbdpLP5E
The proposed one-ton robot submersible with a radioisotope Stirling generator power source, would splashdown circa 2040, and make a 90-day exploration around the perimeter and across the central depths of Kraken. In order for it to directly transmit worthwhile amounts of data over a billion miles to Earth, a large antenna is required, and would be implemented as a planar phased-array dorsal fin. (It was decided to simplify the mission to exclude a relay orbiter which would require significant propulsion and radioisotope power.) This type of antenna would exact a submerged drag penalty, as well as demand judicious placement of large tanks for adequate buoyancy and stability at the surface.
However, the NIAC presentation concludes by observing that “this study is only the first cut at a design, and has identified a number of technical trades and areas deserving closer study. Even with its planetary application aside, this exercise has forced us to look at submarine vehicle design drivers in a whole new way.”
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