Ships on Titan.

Well, this is a news item from before this week’s NASA budget came out. Think of it as a kind of desperate inspiration, perhaps, from the BBC. But it could be… maybe, somehow… that we’ll someday sail a boat on Titan’s methane seas:

The Titan Mare Explorer (TiME) has already been under study for about two years. It is envisaged as a relatively low-cost endeavour – in the low $400m range.

It could launch in January 2016, and make some flybys of Earth and Jupiter to pick up the gravitational energy it would need to head straight at the Saturnian moon for a splash down in June 2023.

The scientists have a couple of seas in mind for their off-world maritime research vessel. Ligeia Mare and Kraken Mare are both about 500km across.

“If we have models that will work on Earth and on Titan then we can be much more confident that those models understand the fundamentals of what’s going on,” explained [team member Dr Ralph Lorenz] from the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

“The photogenic appeal and the mystique of exploring a sea on another world speak for themselves, but there is a genuine practical application to do with the science that will help us address problems here on Earth.”

Just so there’s no confusion, this expedition has rather abruptly become highly unlikely – the Cassini Saturn mission has already been cut short.