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NASA Is Building A Submarine For Its Titan Mission

“Geez, all that money we waste on space exploration, just think how many bombs that would buy.” — Craig Bruce

Please don’t take Craig’s statement wrong. As a comedian, he always tries to make you laugh while telling the bitter truth or his opinion. And yet, how much money has been “wasted” on space missions compared to our countries’ budget for military?

“Two years ago today, Feb 15, 2013, Earth got slammed by a 12,000 ton asteroid traveling 40,000 mph (60,000 km/hr) exploding with the energy of 20x the atomic bomb over Hiroshima in 1945. Would be embarrassing if humans went extinct from an asteroid impact even though we had an (under-funded) space program that could have done something about it. Without opposable thumbs and with those itty-bitty brains, the dinosaurs could only watch, as we are doing now,” tweeted Neil deGrasse Tyson.

Despite those financial facts, NASA’s engineers have been working hard on several space projects, including a robotic submarine that could some day go for a dip in the hydrocarbon lakes on Saturn’s moon Titan.

Titan has always been an interesting target for study because of its unusuality. It’s larger than Mercury and has an atmosphere one-and-a-half times as dense as Earth’s. The atmosphere is mostly nitrogen and methane with hints of hydrogen, so certainly nothing that would support life as we know it. In addition, Titan’s temperature can reach a positively frigid -290 degrees Fahrenheit. These super-low temperatures and thick atmosphere make scientists very anxious to study in detail the vast lakes and rivers of liquid methane and ethane.

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article-2650575-1E85B1CA00000578-99_634x503Now with this new unmanned submarine design, NASA is looking at new Titan missions by the year 2040. The conceptually robotic submarine is based on experience gained from the building and operations of drone submersibles on Earth. Weighing in at about one tonne (2,200 lbs.), it uses conventional electric propulsion modified for use on Titan for a 90-day mission, covering 1,240 miles of Kraken Mare.

At its heart, the submarine would use a 1-kW radiothermal Stirling generator in order to provide power to propel the craft and to keep the electronics from freezing. NASA estimates that the boat could travel about one meter per second (2.2 MPH). Due to the large amount of data that it needs to send to Earth, the submarine features a large dorsal fin that includes a planar phased-array antenna. While operating, the submarine would surface for 16 hours per day for Earth communications using a mast camera.

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140605-titansub_614b56923640fca303b2852708e49b9aBecause of its elongated shape, NASA said the submarine will need to be delivered to Titan using a winged spacecraft similar to the US Air Force X-37 lifting body, which could survive a hypersonic entry into Titan’s atmosphere, ditch it on the surface of Kraken Mare, and then sink away, leaving the submarine floating on the surface.

For more details about the submarine design as well as its mission, please click here.

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