Drones of Titan

I never thought that within my lifetime, we’d be planning – as PopSci reports – to send flying robots to find aliens on Saturn’s moons:

Physicist Jason Barnes has designed a robotic aircraft that could cruise the methane skies of Saturn’s moon Titan almost indefinitely, beaming data and images back to Earth and terminating with extreme prejudice any terrorist threats it encounters there (we made that last part up).

AVIATR is Barnes’s concept for an aerial drone powered by two small nuclear generators (known as Advanced Stirling Radioisotope Generators, or ASRGs) that could stay airborne over Titan pretty much indefinitely. The ASRGs together would only provide about 250 watts, or enough to power two light bulbs. But Titan makes flying easy and non-energy-intensive–it exerts seven times less gravity than Earth and hosts an atmosphere that’s three times denser.

In fact, the most energy-intensive task AVIATR would face is beaming information back to Earth. To do so, the drone would climb to nearly 9 miles up, then divert all of its power to its datalink while gliding back down to 2 miles.