SCEINCE

Scientists suggest sending a fleet of drones to explore Titan’s lakes


We’ve already seen the first controlled flight to another planet, so it may be a matter of time before humans send swarms of flying machines to explore our solar system.

In the new research workbrought to our attention from Forbes, a team of scientists suggested doing just that. Their goal is to send a fleet of mini-drones to the liquid lakes of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, where the scientific community believes there is a chance we will find signs of extraterrestrial life.

Sending drones into a “utopia of researchers”

The proposed mission, called POSEIDON (Titan Polar Scout / orbitEr and In situ lake landing DrONE explorer), will send a lander to the surface of Titan, which will then deploy either a fleet of mini-drones or a large amphibian. Whichever option is chosen, it will explore the polar regions of Titan, where there is the highest concentration of lakes and seas.

Even before the newly proposed POSEIDON mission, the scientific community focused on exploring Saturn’s celestial neighbor. In fact, NASA has already done so plans a mission to Titan, which is expected to reach the moon in the 2030s. A mission called Dragonfly will also send flying machines or propellers to explore and potentially detect signs of life.

“Titan is a utopia for the researcher,” Cornell University said Alex Hayes, who is working with NASA on the Dragonfly mission, said in August. “The scientific questions we have about Titan are very broad, because we still don’t know much about what’s really happening on the surface.

NASA’s Dragonfly mission is set to reach Titan in the 2030s. Source: John Hopkins / APL

In April this year, NASA also held historically first controlled flight on Mars using a drone-like helicopter called Ingenuity. The mission showed that we have the technology to adapt our flying machines to the thin atmospheres and harsh conditions in distant parts of our solar system. The ability to fly outside the world offers the potential for many future missions focused on exploring vast areas of different planets.

But why turn our attention to Saturn’s moon, Titan? The authors of the new document outlining the POSEIDON proposal emphasize the fact that any mission to Titan can have an “exceptional scientific impact” and that it can even provide evidence of extraterrestrial life.

Search for extraterrestrial life in our solar system

of Saturn the largest moon Titan, is home to lakes and oceans and its surface is often sprinkled with rain. Unlike Earth, however, they are all composed of liquid methane and ethane. The dense atmosphere of the Moon means that it is not possible to analyze and observe in detail without an in-situ orbital apparatus and a descending apparatus.

Researchers behind the POSEIDON proposal say that after the deployment of its lander, the mission’s orbital spacecraft will continue to travel around Titan, collecting data. At the same time, the lander can deploy a fleet of mini-drones – monocopter cubes only a few inches high – to analyze and plot the surface of the moon, providing invaluable data to Earth. In their paper, the researchers point out that Titan’s low gravity and dense atmosphere make it ideal for flying machines.

The mission plan was developed for the European Space Agency (ESA), which recently launched an initiative called Voyage 2050, calling for ideas for ambitious future missions. If adopted by ESA, it will aim to launch to Titan before the moon’s next northern vernal equinox in 2039, as seasonal effects on the climate will be most pronounced at that time. Everything is planned, by the next decade we will learn a lot about one of the most exciting places in our solar system and potentially about the existence of extraterrestrial life.





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