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May 06, 2011

Saturn's Moon Titan Explorer Mission selected by NASA


NASA has selected a mission to Saturn's Moon for Discovery Program Development. The Titan Mare Explorer, or TiME, would perform the first direct inspection of an ocean environment beyond Earth by landing in, and floating on, a large methane-ethane sea on the cloudy, complex moon.


The TiME capsule would launch in 2016 and reach Titan in 2023, parachuting onto the moon's second-largest northern sea, the Ligeia Mare. For 96 days the capsule would study the composition and behavior of the sea and its interaction with Titan's weather and climate. TiME would also seek evidence of the complex organic chemistry that may be active on Titan today, and that may be similar to processes that led to the development of life on the early Earth.

This is for the methane ocean and not a possible underground water ocean on Titan

Researchers studying Titan with the Cassini spacecraft believe that there is an icy shell about 93 to 124 miles (150 to 200 kilometers) thick and a liquid water ocean 3 to 264 miles (5 to 425 km) deep, with the solid interior making up the rest.

Titan is about 3,200 miles (5,150 km) in diameter.

Titan Mare Explorer of the Methane Ocean


Also selected were a NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory lander that would study the Martian interior, and a NASA Goddard project to land on a comet multiple times and observe its interaction with the sun. Chosen from 28 full-mission proposals submitted to NASA last summer, each investigation team now receives $3 million to develop a detailed concept study. After another review of those studies in 2012, NASA will select one to develop for launch. The selected mission will be cost-capped at $425 million, not including launch vehicle funding.

APL also has a role on the NASA Goddard mission team, to provide a high-resolution telescopic camera for the "Comet Hopper" spacecraft.

The TE architecture is flexible with (from the left) an Orbiter, Lander, and Balloon housed in individual aeroshells

The Titan Explorer Flagship Mission Study from 2008 (197 pages)

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