Saturn’s moon, Titan, is one of the most intriguing bodies in our solar system. What makes it so special? Three large seas of methane and ethane. The composition of these seas looks a lot like liquefied natural gas here on Earth.

At the 46th Lunar and Planetary Science Conference, a team of scientists showed off a ‘practical’ submarine design for exploring Titan’s depths. Scientists took many design cues from AUVs/UUVs used in our oceans.

The concept would send a submarine weighing about 1 ton to Titan around the year 2040. It’s mission would last 90 days and the submarine would explore 2000 km of shore and the depths of Kraken Mare. The image below highlights the proposed exploration area.

submarine exploring area

How could does the U.S. Air Force’s X-37 factor into this concept mission? Delivering a rover to Mars is a lot different than delivering an elongated submarine to Titan. The scientists say their submarine can fit perfectly into the cargo area of a modified Air Force X-37 lifting body.

air force x-37

According to the concept, the X-37 would make a soft water landing in Kraken Mare and then deploy the submarine.

There are some key design differences between this automated submarine and ones you find on Earth. Data transmission is the biggest. A large antenna would be attached to the top of the hull and act as a dorsal fin.

The ballast tank would also see a major design change. A typical ballast tank uses pressurized atmospheric gas to expel water from the tank. That poses a bit of a problem for a submarine on Titan. Scientists expect nitrogen to condense at depths of more than 300 meters. Instead, “a piston arrangement for buoyancy control is adopted, isolating the sea liquid from a noncondensing pressurant (helium or neon),” according to the scientists

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It’s all in the concept phase, but it does show promise. If this mission happens, one of the key objectives would be measuring for trace organic components in Kraken Mare.

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