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NASA Space

NASA Advances Missions To Land a Flying Robot on Titan or Snatch a Piece of a Comet (washingtonpost.com) 49

Sarah Kaplan, writing for the Washington Post: NASA's newest mission will either land a quadcopter-like spacecraft on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan or collect a sample from the nucleus of a comet. (Editor's note: the link may be paywalled; alternative source.) The two proposals were selected from a group of 12 submitted to the New Frontiers program, which supports mid-level planetary science missions. The first, called Dragonfly, would be an unprecedented project to send a flying robot to an alien moon. Equipped with instruments capable of identifying large organic molecules, the quadcopter would be able to fly to multiple locations hundreds of miles apart to study the landscape on Titan. This large, cold moon of Saturn features a thick atmosphere and lakes and rivers of liquid methane, and scientists believe that a watery ocean may lurk beneath its frozen crust. [...] The Comet Astrobiology Exploration SAmple Return, or CAESAR, mission would circle back to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, which was visited by the European Space Agency's Rosetta spacecraft from 2014 to 2016. After rendezvousing with the Mount Fuji-size space rock, CAESAR would suck up a sample from its surface and send it back to Earth, where it would arrive in November 2038 (mark your calendars!).
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NASA Advances Missions To Land a Flying Robot on Titan or Snatch a Piece of a Comet

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  • by wisebabo ( 638845 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2017 @10:34PM (#55780747) Journal

    It would allow it to land on the (very still) "waters" of the oceans and lakes of Titan!

    Then, with its existing instrument suite or perhaps another or two, it could directly measure the characteristics of the liquids on the only other body in the solar system known to have liquids on its surface.

    Perhaps a simple acoustic sounder could make depth measurements? A camera, able to "see" in wavelengths transparent to the liquid (methane?) could take undermethane photos? (Remember to correct for the different refraction index of methane!).

    Wow, just wow. Of course that's assuming there's no "Titanic" Kraken that'll gobble it up. But that would be the same as what the project investigator said about trees on Titan: "... the cameras will, during the descent, hopefully prevent to octo-copter from crashing into a tree. But if it does crash into a tree, we win! :)" (because the camera will presumably be transmitting live pictures).

    Pontoons (should be) pretty light so hopefully mass isn't a problem. If volume is a problem, make them "inflatable" (of course this adds risk and complexity though).

    *I think it's an octo-copter with 8 rotors around 4 hubs.

  • Titan (Score:4, Insightful)

    by Kozar_The_Malignant ( 738483 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2017 @10:38PM (#55780763)
    While the comet mission is certainly worthy, Titan is is the most Earth-like body in the solar system, except for temperature. It has a thick atmosphere of mostly nitrogen. It has a complex "hydrological" cycle with methane as the analog to water. There are surface lakes, rivers, and seas of liquid methane and ethane. The Cassini-Huygens mission detected extremely complex hydrocarbons in the atmosphere. All of this makes Titan a really interesting place to look for life. If it's there, it will likely be Very Different from life as we know it.
  • by xbytor ( 215790 ) on Wednesday December 20, 2017 @10:43PM (#55780781) Homepage

    >where it would arrive in November 2038 (mark your calendars!).

    Everybody knows the end of the world is January 19, 2038 as was foretold in 1970.

    • >where it would arrive in November 2038 (mark your calendars!).

      Everybody knows the end of the world is January 19, 2038 as was foretold in 1970.

      Oh yes, isn't that the date after which all the remaining computers will be running Windows? Better start wiring the custom mission control software right now.

      • by sconeu ( 64226 )

        When will they change time_t to 64-bits?

        • When will they change time_t to 64-bits?

          They already have:

          % uname -a
          Darwin Mac15 17.3.0 Darwin Kernel Version 17.3.0
          % cat > foo.c
          #include
          int
          main(void)
          {
              printf("sizeof(time_t) = %ld\n", sizeof(time_t));
              return 0;
          }
          END
          % gcc foo.c
          % ./a.out
          sizeof(time_t) = 8

  • (it's me again, I wrote the "Pontoons comment above)

    I should remind Slashdot readers that we already have a cometary probe planned, funded and soon to be launched I think: OSIRIS-rex. While I really like comets and would love to get samples back, we've (sort of) been there done that.

    In a more perfect world where we didn't just raise our deficit 1.5Trillion dollars to give tax cuts to corporations (and their wealthy owners), we'd be doing both but until China gets their act together, we (and to a lesser ext

    • I should remind Slashdot readers that we already have a cometary probe planned, funded and soon to be launched I think: OSIRIS-rex. While I really like comets and would love to get samples back, we've (sort of) been there done that.

      OSIRIS -REx is an asteroid sample retrieval mission. https://www.asteroidmission.or... [asteroidmission.org]
      Similar, but we would learn very different things from a comet sample.

      ...

      (While we're dreaming, a submersible probe to Titan would also be cool.

      Yes!! Let's do it!

      https://www.nasa.gov/content/t... [nasa.gov]

      http://geology.com/articles/titan-submarine/

      (full disclosure: ok, I worked on that one: http://adsabs.harvard.edu/abs/... [harvard.edu]

      By the way, ARE there any short wavelengths that would be transparent to the hydrocarbon seas of Titan? Otherwise, just sonar.)

      Turns out that liquid methane and ethane are moderately transparent to radio frequency.

      • Oops! Didn't look into OSIRIS-REx closely enough. Anyway, aren't asteroids just naked comets? :)

      • What would they look for with a submarine? It would be very cool, but wouldn't it basically look like the surface, but under liquid? I skimmed the articles, but didn't see anything. Why not a floating raft with a drop camera? Seems simpler and more versatile.
      • What do you want to bet that we will eventually learn, that there's essentially no difference between asteroids and comets?
    • that we already have a cometary probe planned, funded and soon to be launched I think: OSIRIS-rex.

      OSIRIS-rex will be launched on September 8, 2016. The world as you know it will come to an end exactly two months later.

  • Tell Elon Musk he can't do it.

  • with lots of high def video!

%DCL-MEM-BAD, bad memory VMS-F-PDGERS, pudding between the ears

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