Science goals and new mission concepts for future exploration of Titan’s atmosphere, geology and habitability:titan POlar scout/orbitEr and in situ lake lander and DrONe explorer (POSEIDON)

Rodriguez, Sébastien and Vinatier, Sandrine and Cordier, Daniel and Tobie, Gabriel and Achterberg, Richard K. and Anderson, Carrie M. and Badman, Sarah V. and Barnes, Jason W. and Barth, Erika L. and Bézard, Bruno and Carrasco, Nathalie and Charnay, Benjamin and Clark, Roger N. and Coll, Patrice and Cornet, Thomas and Coustenis, Athena and Couturier-Tamburelli, Isabelle and Dobrijevic, Michel and Flasar, F. Michael and de Kok, Remco and Freissinet, Caroline and Galand, Marina and Gautier, Thomas and Geppert, Wolf D. and Griffith, Caitlin A. and Gudipati, Murthy S. and Hadid, Lina Z. and Hayes, Alexander G. and Hendrix, Amanda R. and Jaumann, Ralf and Jennings, Donald E. and Jolly, Antoine and Kalousova, Klara and Koskinen, Tommi T. and Lavvas, Panayotis and Lebonnois, Sébastien and Lebreton, Jean-Pierre and Le Gall, Alice and Lellouch, Emmanuel and Le Mouélic, Stéphane and Lopes, Rosaly M. C. and Lora, Juan M. and Lorenz, Ralph D. and Lucas, Antoine and MacKenzie, Shannon and Malaska, Michael J. and Mandt, Kathleen and Mastrogiuseppe, Marco and Newman, Claire E. and Nixon, Conor A. and Radebaugh, Jani and Rafkin, Scot C. and Rannou, Pascal and Sciamma-O’Brien, Ella M. and Soderblom, Jason M. and Solomonidou, Anezina and Sotin, Christophe and Stephan, Katrin and Strobel, Darrell and Szopa, Cyril and Teanby, Nicholas A. and Turtle, Elizabeth P. and Vuitton, Véronique and West, Robert A. (2022) Science goals and new mission concepts for future exploration of Titan’s atmosphere, geology and habitability:titan POlar scout/orbitEr and in situ lake lander and DrONe explorer (POSEIDON). Experimental Astronomy, 54 (2-3). pp. 911-973. ISSN 1572-9508

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In response to ESA’s “Voyage 2050” announcement of opportunity, we propose an ambitious L-class mission to explore one of the most exciting bodies in the Solar System, Saturn’s largest moon Titan. Titan, a “world with two oceans”, is an organic-rich body with interior-surface-atmosphere interactions that are comparable in complexity to the Earth. Titan is also one of the few places in the Solar System with habitability potential. Titan’s remarkable nature was only partly revealed by the Cassini-Huygens mission and still holds mysteries requiring a complete exploration using a variety of vehicles and instruments. The proposed mission concept POSEIDON (Titan POlar Scout/orbitEr and In situ lake lander DrONe explorer) would perform joint orbital and in situ investigations of Titan. It is designed to build on and exceed the scope and scientific/technological accomplishments of Cassini-Huygens, exploring Titan in ways that were not previously possible, in particular through full close-up and in situ coverage over long periods of time. In the proposed mission architecture, POSEIDON consists of two major elements: a spacecraft with a large set of instruments that would orbit Titan, preferably in a low-eccentricity polar orbit, and a suite of in situ investigation components, i.e. a lake lander, a “heavy” drone (possibly amphibious) and/or a fleet of mini-drones, dedicated to the exploration of the polar regions. The ideal arrival time at Titan would be slightly before the next northern Spring equinox (2039), as equinoxes are the most active periods to monitor still largely unknown atmospheric and surface seasonal changes. The exploration of Titan’s northern latitudes with an orbiter and in situ element(s) would be highly complementary in terms of timing (with possible mission timing overlap), locations, and science goals with the upcoming NASA New Frontiers Dragonfly mission that will provide in situ exploration of Titan’s equatorial regions, in the mid-2030s.

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Journal Article
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Experimental Astronomy
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13 Jan 2022 16:24
Last Modified:
15 Sep 2023 01:22