Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, is one of the most scientifically interesting locations in the Solar System. With a very cold atmosphere that is five times as dense as Earth s, and one and a half times the surface pressure, it also provides one of the most aeronautically fascinating environments known to humankind. While this may seem the ideal place to attempt atmospheric flight, many challenges await any vehicle attempting to navigate through it. In addition to these physical challenges, any scientific exploration mission to Titan will most likely have several operational constraints. One difficult constraint is the desire for a global survey of the planet and thus, a long duration flight within the atmosphere. Since many of the scientific measurements that would be unique to a vehicle flying through the atmosphere (as opposed to an orbiting spacecraft) desire near-surface positioning of their associated instruments, the vehicle must also be able to fly within the first scale height of the atmosphere. Another difficult constraint is that interaction with the surface, whether by landing or dropped probe, is also highly desirable from a scientific perspective. Two common atmospheric flight platforms that might be used for this mission are the airplane and airship. Under the assumption of a mission architecture that would involve an orbiting relay spacecraft delivered via aerocapture and an atmospheric flight vehicle delivered via direct entry, designs were developed for both platforms that are unique to Titan. Consequently, after a viable design was achieved for each platform, their advantages and disadvantages were compared. This comparison included such factors as deployment risk, surface interaction capability, mass, and design heritage. When considering all factors, the preferred candidate platform for a global survey of Titan is an airship.
Spacecraft Design, Testing and Performance
AIAA Paper 2005-6235
AIAA Atmospheric Flight Mechanics Conference and Exhibit; 15-18 Aug. 2005; San Francisco, CA; United States