Every year, NASA's Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program looks for projects that will change the way we explore space. They're after ideas that no one else has thought of yet, and sound kind of crazy, but just might work - like sending rovers to explore the oceans of Europa and Titan, for instance.
Diving into extraterrestrial oceans is no day at the beach, so scientists need to get creative. In order to search below sea level, they need rovers that can hold their own, and maneuver through deep, dark bodies of liquid, while gathering information about their surroundings.
If all goes well with this proposal, then there will be a giant submarine diving through Titan's hydrocarbon ocean.
The team behind this project wants to send a submarine down into the creek on Saturn's moon, Titan. It’s called Kraken Mare, and it’s the largest ocean on Titan - about the size of all the Great Lakes put together. However, it isn’t made of water.
Based on the radar images from the Cassini spacecraft, astronomers found that Titan’s oceans are made of liquid hydrocarbons, like methane and ethane. This presents a few challenges for designing a submarine to study Kraken Mare’s chemical composition, tides, currents, and floor.
Heat from the generator used to power the submarine could actually cause the surrounding liquid to boil; but if it's too chilly, all of the electronic equipment will freeze up, and the submarine has to be designed to move through hydrocarbons, which have different densities than water.
Otherwise, the whole thing could just sink to the bottom as soon as NASA drops it off.
But that's what NIAC is for - taking awesome ideas and figuring out how to make them possible, so that one day, scientists can study whatever might be lurking underneath.
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Sources: This story was originally published on SciShow Space. I am republishing a lightly edited version on SkyFeed in light of interest in the subject. Hofmeister, Caitlin. "New Rovers: A Robot Eel And A Submarine!" SciShow Space, YouTube. 23 June 2015. Web video.
Citation: Rovira, Lia N. "This NASA Rover Doubles As A Submarine." SkyFeed. 11 July 2018. Web article.