Space boat may one day cruise the methane lakes of Titan

When it comes to exploring the surface of Mars, wheeled rovers have done the work. Scientists looking to explore other planetary bodies and their natural satellites are looking to vehicles other than wheeled rovers for exploration use. Scientists are proposing a new mission to Saturn's largest moon, Titan, using a boat rover to cruise the moon's largest methane lake.

Titan is the largest of Saturn's natural satellites and is covered in seas, lakes, and rivers of liquid methane. Titan has a thick atmosphere making it one of the most Earth-like bodies in our solar system. Titan is a massive moon and is more like a planetary object than the Earth's moon. Titan is wider than Mercury, but smaller than Earth.

Scientists have long wondered if it was possible for Titan to harbor life. Some scientists believe the moon is too cold with average temperatures as low as -289°F. However, other scientists believe that the atmosphere and a significant source of liquids could make the planet viable for microbial life. Previously, the European Space Agency Huygens probe touchdown on land on Titan and transmitted data for a few hours before going dark in 2005.

Data collected from that probe confirmed that there were lakes, rivers, and seas made of liquid hydrocarbons on the moon. Scientists are proposing a mission called Titan Lake In-situ Sampling Propelled Explorer (TALISE). This mission would land a boat propelled by wheels, paddles, or screws that would float around in the largest lake on the surface of Titan called Ligeia Mare. This lake is located near Titan's North Pole, and the proposed mission would spend about six months to a year on the surface of the lake as it makes its way to the coast.

"The main innovation in TALISE is the propulsion system," Igone Urdampilleta of Spain-based private engineering firm SENER, a member of the TALISE team, said in a statement. "This allows the probe to move, under control, from the landing site in the lake, to the closest shore. The displacement capability would achieve the obtaining of liquid and solid samples from several scientific interesting locations on Titan's surface such as the landing place, along the route towards the shore and finally at the shoreline."