NASA Might Be Sending a Balloon to Mars' Biggest Moon



Quadcopter

NASA is looking into the possibility of sending a quadcopter to explore Titan, the largest of Mars' moons, according to the space agency.
NASA agreed to put $100,000 toward a preliminary study of the aircraft. The quadcopter, also known as a quadrotor helicopter, would be carried by a giant balloon in order to travel quickly and unobtrusively to Titan's surface to study it. Larry Matthies, a senior research scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, submitted the proposal for funding in March. The study is expected to start in July, and wrap up by April 2015.

The goal of the mission is to study the variety of organisms thought to live on Titan, Matthies toldMashable.
"Titan is believed to have chemical processes that ... [are] prebiotic," he said. "We could learn how life could have arisen on earth."
Upon reaching Titan, the quadcopter would deploy from the balloon, and collect samples and photos; it would then return them to a nearby mothercraft for analysis. Previous designs for such an exploration failed. When a craft designed only to hover above Titan, like a balloon, was theorized, the craft could not land on the surface. When using a test craft designed only to touch down on the moon's surface, the craft could not travel quickly. Blending the two concepts into one aircraft would solve both issues, NASA said.
The lightweight spacecraft would weigh less than 22 pounds. It would recharge using a radioisotope thermoelectric generator stored on board the mothership. This type of generator creates power by converting radioactive material into heat.
The design is still undergoing initial study, and a timeframe for the mission has not yet been announced. But it could be a long time before a quadcopter touches down on Titan.
"This is not an approved mission. This could enable a mission sometime in the future," Matthies said, adding that the trip would likely not happen for at least 10 years.
NASA did not respond immediately to a request for comment.
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