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NASA funding space plane that will fly on Saturn’s moon Titan

"Flying on Titan would be relatively easy thanks to its low gravity and thick atmosphere."

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An illustration by artist James Vaughan of the TitanAir flyer. (James Vaughan via SWNS)

By Dean Murray via SWNS

NASA is funding a space plane that will fly on the Saturn moon of Titan.

The TitanAir craft would soar through the skies of the icy world before landing on its lakes.

The space agency said this month they have selected the concept as part of experimental space technology for initial study.

Researchers will be able to develop ideas and more using NASA grant funding.

The concept has been envisioned by Quinn Morley of Planet Enterprises in Gig Harbor, Washington.

Its goal would be to investigate the chemistry of Saturn’s largest moon; an icy world whose surface is completely obscured by a golden hazy atmosphere.


Quinn Morley explains: "This Titan Flyer concept aims to "drink" in methane condensation and organic material through a permeable section of leading edge wing skin.

"Capillary features on the inside of the wing will collect this ingested material and combine it into a continuous fluid stream, which can then be routed to science instruments inside the flyer.

"To enable intermittent low altitude flight, the flyer will land on the seas of Titan like a flying boat -- except 'boat' implies water, and on Titan the lakes are made of methane. We're calling it a 'flying laker.'"

Announcing the concept, NASA said: "Flying on Titan would be relatively easy thanks to its low gravity and thick atmosphere.

"Morley conceived a flying, heavily instrumented boat that would seamlessly transition between soaring through Titan’s atmosphere and sailing its lakes, much like a seaplane on Earth."

This composite image shows an infrared view of Saturn's moon Titan from NASA's Cassini spacecraft, acquired during the mission's "T-114" flyby on Nov. 13, 2015. (NASA via SWNS)

The NASA Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program fosters innovation by funding early-stage studies to evaluate technologies that could support future missions.

The latest round of awards will provide $175,000 grants to 14 visionaries from nine states. in America.

NASA Administrator Bill Nelson says: "NASA dares to make the impossible possible. That’s only achievable because of the innovators, thinkers, and doers who are helping us imagine and prepare for the future of space exploration.

"The NIAC program helps give these forward-thinking scientists and engineers the tools and support they need to spur technology that will enable future NASA missions."

Described as a "low-cost flying boat mission", the TitanAir project would focus on atmospheric and lacustrine, or lake, science.

NASA say it could target specific important questions that remain untargeted by any currently funded or planned Titan mission.

Titan is the second largest moon in our solar system. Only Jupiter's moon Ganymede is larger, by just two percent. Titan is bigger than Earth's moon, and larger than even the planet Mercury.

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