Yes it’s happening – the desire to explore one of the most exciting objects on our solar system has momentum building behind it. One of the most curious features on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, is that it is the only place in our solar system other than earth to have seas. Now NASA is developing a plan to send a submarine to explore Kraken Mare, which is 1000 kilometers wide and 300 metres deep. The sea was made famous under the Cassini-Huygens mission through the feature named the ‘magic island’.
The value of the project aside from the science on Titan, will also have many benefits for NASA in terms of development and future missions. Titan Sub will also address the NASA technology areas of Space Power and Energy Storage, Robotics and Autonomous Systems, Communications and Navigation Systems, Science Instruments and Sensors, Materials, and Thermal Management Systems. By addressing the challenges of autonomous submersible exploration in a cold outer solar system environment, Titan Sub serves as a pathfinder for even more exotic future exploration of the subsurface water oceans of Europa for example.
The ethane and methane seas on Titan have been extensively mapped by NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, which has been studying the moon as part of its mission to Saturn since 2004, when the probe arrived in orbit around the ringed planet. In January 2005, the Huygens probe — a lander carried by Cassini but built by the European and Italian space agencies — landed on the surface of Titan, beaming back the first photos of that strange new world. However, although we know that the seas are largely methane and ethane, the exact composition of the seas are not known, and variations between different stretches of water are not known.