Apr 17, 2017 03:53 AM EDT
It requires rigorous testing on Earth to venture out in space. NASA's ambitious plan to float a spacecraft on Titan's methane seas is undergoing technological testing in a Chilean lake.
Titan is Saturn's moon that is most likely to harbor life, the reason why NASA is targeting it for landing a spacecraft. Although it is impossible to recreate methane seas on Earth, a Chilean lake was selected to test a miniature mock-up of the lander concept called Titan Mare Explorer (TiME).
The aim of this technological test was to simulate conditions of the Titan's seas on the lake to see how the probe behaves under waves and winds. This is NASAs bold step towards understanding the effects of diverse environments on other planets and moons in Earth's solar system to enable future spacecraft to land.
Space.com reports what Ellen Stofan, TiME's former principle investigator had to say, "I found it extremely helpful to see the remote operations and to participate in measuring the depth of the lake [with TiME]." However, according to him the trial was not designed for a complete test of planetary lake lander.
Since Titan is the only heavenly body in Earth's solar system to have liquid lakes and seas consisting of methane and ethane, there is a strong possibility that these liquids contain alien lifeforms completely different from those on Earth. NASA thinks that Titan is the best bet to find alien life.
According to Scientific American, unlike the Mars rovers, robotic explorations on Titan would require intense brainstorming and brain work. To this end, TiME will be powered by Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generator especially developed by NASA.
Stofan is upbeat on the prospects of splashing down TiME in Ligeia Mare, a methane-ethane sea near Titan's north pole in 2023. Since it is designed to float, it will drift across the surface of the liquid, wherever the currents and winds carry it.
As TiME bobs up and down on the surface of the Titan lake with its bulk rising 6.5 feet above the liquid, it will measure the temperature, methane humidity, atmospheric pressure and details about the Titan winds. The data will provide crucial information as to how Titan's atmosphere and sea interact and whether this chemistry would lead towards creation of life.
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