One of the missions not selected under NASA’s Discovery Program was the Titan Mare Explorer or TiME. This mission would have seen the first “ship” cruise on an alien sea. Image Credit: The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory/Lockheed Martin

A Mission Ahead of its TiME?

By Jason Rhian

There was more than a little outcry over the selection of the InSight mission to Mars over two other very attractive missions when the choice was made in August of this year. One of the two missions not selected – was the Titan Mare Explorer or “TiME.” TiME would have seen a probe sail on the surface of one of the methane seas of Saturn’s moon Titan.

It would have been the first nautical exploration of an alien sea, but it was not to be – at least not yet.

The TiME mission was proposed after it was confirmed that Titan indeed contained rivers, lakes and seas consisting of liquid methane. The target was the methane lake Ligeia Mare, which is larger than Lake Superior on Earth. Ligeia has a total surface area of approximately 100,000 km2. If for some reason this wasn’t possible, a backup site had also been selected, Kraken Mare.

Missions to land on one of Titan’s lakes were also proposed under the Solar System Decadal Survey and is still being considered for the Titan-Saturn System Mission which could launch sometime in the 2020s. In 2012 a similar project was announced in Europe, the Titan Lake In-situ Sampling Propelled Explorer or “TALISE.”

Unlike the Huygens probe which landed on the Titan surface in 2005, TiME would have relayed its findings directly back to Earth. Huygens transmitted its findings to the orbiting Cassini spacecraft which then sent that information back home. Line-of-sight communication with Earth will not be possible between 2026-2035 as Earth will have dipped below the horizon at the Ligeia Mare site.

Why explore the lakes of Titan?

Simply put, Titan, the only Moon in the solar system with an appreciable atmosphere, is like a flash-frozen young Earth. With organic compounds, hydrocarbons, possible cryovolcanoes, methane rain and other features that bear a striking resemblance to terrestrial processes – exploring Titan could provide new insights about how life got started on Earth.

Read more: A Mission Ahead of its TiME? « AmericaSpace.

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