Saturn’s giant moon Titan has become one of the most fascinating bodies in the solar system because of its potential similarities to the atmosphere of primordial Earth, and NASA has now announced plans to release a small drone from an interplanetary balloon to explore the moon’s surface.
The so-called “Titan Aerial Daughtercraft” mission concept recently received a $100,000 Phase 1 grant from the NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts programme. As part of this proposed mission, a quadcopter drone would “jump” from a mothership-type balloon to explore the surface of Titan. The drone would then return to the balloon to recharge for the night, the researchers said.
“We propose a mission study of a small (less than 10 kg) rotorcraft that can deploy from a balloon or lander to acquire close-up, high resolution imagery and mapping data of the surface,” NASA said in a statement. Both vehicles would be used to investigate Titan’s hydrogen- and carbon-rich environment, which some scientists think resembles the composition of the Earth’s atmosphere early in its history.
“Scientists call the chemistry on Titan ‘prebiotic,’ meaning that they think earth could have had similar chemistry before life arose,” Larry Matthies, lead researcher of the new concept, was quoted as saying.
Because of the potential similarities to the atmosphere of primordial Earth, scientists have long wanted to take a closer look at Titan, Live Science reported. “By analysing Titan’s surface, this mission concept may teach us volumes about prebiotic chemical evolution on a planetary surface,” NASA added.