This Spacecraft Could Make Its Own Fuel on Titan, Head Back Home

Ever since we began taking a closer look at the projects included by NASA in the Innovative Advanced Concepts (NIAC) program as part of our Space Month coverage, we’ve seen some incredible, at times mind-twisting, concepts. None of them is, however, as extreme as this one here.
Titan Sample Return Using In-Situ Propellants 1 photo
Photo: Katherine Miller
In fact, the idea is so out of this world that it’s not even properly explained yet, and doesn’t even have a name. All its creator, Glenn Research Center's Steven Oleson, has to say about it is that the endeavor is “an order of magnitude more difficult [...] than other sample return missions.” Yet NASA found it appealing enough to back it in the early stages of the NIAC program.

The working title of the thing, if you will, is Titan Sample Return Using In-Situ Propellants, and that pretty much says it all. What we have here is a spaceship tasked with traveling to Saturn’s moon, land there, and start collecting samples.

When all is done, it should be able to head back home with pieces of the alien world, using propellants it will manufacture on-site through some mysterious process, using volatile substances available on the surface.

How it is all supposed to work is anybody’s guess, as this concept is still in its (very) early stages. There’s also a lot NASA still has to learn about Titan before deciding if this is a feasible concept or not.

The American space agency is already planning a mission to Titan, the largest moon in our solar system and the only other celestial body in relative vicinity to have stable surface liquid bodies.

The mission will take off in 2026, but it won’t reach its destination, about a billion miles away, until 2034. The whole adventure is centered around a drone called Dragonfly, which is to study the moon for close to three years in search of, well, life.
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About the author: Daniel Patrascu
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Daniel loves writing (or so he claims), and he uses this skill to offer readers a "behind the scenes" look at the automotive industry. He also enjoys talking about space exploration and robots, because in his view the only way forward for humanity is away from this planet, in metal bodies.
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