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NIAC Phase 1 Final Study Report on Titan Aerial DaughtercraftSaturns giant moon Titan has become one of the most fascinating bodies in the Solar System. Even though it is a billion miles from Earth, data from the Cassini mission reveals that Titan has a very diverse, Earth-like surface, with mountains, fluvial channels, lakes, evaporite basins, plains, dunes, and seas [Lopes 2010] (Figure 1). But unlike Earth, Titans surface likely is composed of organic chemistry products derived from complex atmospheric photochemistry [Lorenz 2008]. In addition, Titan has an active meteorological system with observed storms and precipitation-induced surface darkening suggesting a hydrocarbon cycle analogous to Earths water cycle [Turtle 2011].Titan is the richest laboratory in the solar system for studying prebiotic chemistry, which makes studying its chemistry from the surface and in the atmosphere one of the most important objectives in planetary science [Decadal 2011]. The diversity of surface features on Titan related to organic solids and liquids makes long-range mobility with surface access important [Decadal 2011]. This has not been possible to date, because mission concepts have had either no mobility (landers), no surface access (balloons and airplanes), or low maturity, high risk, and/or high development costs for this environment (e,g. large, self-sufficient, long-duration helicopters). Enabling in situ mobility could revolutionize Titan exploration, similarly to the way rovers revolutionized Mars exploration. Recent progress on several fronts has suggested that small-scale rotorcraft deployed as daughtercraft from a lander or balloon mothercraft may be an effective, affordable approach to expanding Titan surface access. This includes rapid progress on autonomous navigation capabilities of such aircraft for terrestrial applications and on miniaturization, driven by the consumer mobile electronics market, of high performance of sensors, processors, and other avionics components needed for such aircraft. Chemical analysis, for example with a mass spectrometer, will be important to any Titan surface mission. Anticipating that it may be more practical to host chemical analysis instruments on a mothership than a daughtercraft, we defined system and mission concepts that deploy a small rotorcraft, termed a Titan Aerial Daughtercraft (TAD), from a lander or balloon to perform high-resolution imaging and mapping, potentially land to acquire microscopic images or other in situ measurements, and acquire samples to return to analytical instruments on the mothership. In principle, the ability to recharge batteries in TAD from a radioisotope or other long-lived power source on the mothership could enable multiple sorties. For a lander-based mission, a variety of landing sites is conceivable, including near lake margins, in dry lake beds, or in regions of plains, dunes, or putative cryovolanic or impact melt features. Such missions may require landing with greater precision than in previous missions (Huygens) and mission studies; this could also enhance the ability of TAD to reach interesting terrain from the landing site. Precision descent may also benefit balloon missions, with or without a daughtercraft, by increasing the probability that the balloon will drift over desired terrain early in its mission. Given these potential benefits, the overall concept studied here includes brief consideration of precision descent for landing or balloon deployment, followed by one or more sorties by a rotorcraft deployed from the mothership, with the ability to return to the mothership.
Document ID
Document Type
Matthies, Larry (Jet Propulsion Lab., California Inst. of Tech. Pasadena, CA, United States)
Date Acquired
March 3, 2017
Publication Date
February 13, 2017
Subject Category
Lunar and Planetary Science and Exploration
Report/Patent Number
Distribution Limits
Work of the US Gov. Public Use Permitted.
Solar System

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