There are tremendous opportunities for the application of aerial mobility technology to the post-Cassini/Huygens exploration of Titan. In particular, Titan's thick atmosphere enables the use of compact, self-propelled buoyant vehicles that can access most of the world over multi-month time scales with minimal consumption of scarce onboard electrical power. Depending of the level of autonomy incorporated, such an aerobot (robotic balloon) vehicle could acquire a wide spectrum of scientific data ranging from simple aerial imaging to acquisition of surface samples and onboard composition analysis. However, prior to the start of this R&TD task in FY'03, the technology for Titan aerobots was in a primitive state (TRL ~3) both in the hardware and software (autonomy) components. The general objective of this three-year R&TD task is to mature the thermo-mechanical hardware elements of Titan aerobots by developing several innovative component technologies and using them to synthesize a robust and efficient vehicle design at the TRL 4-5 level. Success in this task will resolve key thermo-mechanical feasibility issues and enable high fidelity quantitative performance estimates that are required for future mission planning.
Jeffery Hall - Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Research and Technology Development Program