Titan’s Seas Get an Earthly Stand-In as Robot Explores Chilean Lake [Slide Show]
The Planetary Lake Lander is testing autonomous exploration technologies for a future mission to Saturn’s most intriguing moon
Credits: Katie Worth
Science Extended: The team takes a break on a slab of granite to admire the view of Echuarren glacier. In November NASA announced the project’s funding would be extended by another year.
Chilly in Chile: Temperatures at the high-altitude camp dropped sharply at night, requiring engineer Trey Smith, center, and colleagues to bundle up as they worked past dusk in the tent dubbed the Robodome.
Eyes Underwater: Researcher Cristian Tambley of logistics company CampoAlto attaches a camera to an improvised submarine. The device recorded algae growing at 60 meters below the surface. Flora can thrive even at that depth because of the extraordinary transparency of the lake, an effect of accelerated deglaciation.
Titan Ahoy: The Lake Lander temporarily gains a deck chair and an electric motor for a cruise across the lake. The proposed Titan Mare Explorer would float passively on currents, but could aim its cameras and instruments to focus on interesting phenomena, and then use simple data analysis to select the information it sent back to Earth.
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Shoving Off: Principal Investigator Nathalie Cabrol waves as the science team embarks on a data-collection mission. In addition to developing technology, researchers are exploring the effects of climate change on the lake.
Moonlit Maintenance: Engineers Liam Pedersen and Susan Lee of NASA’s Intelligent Robotics Group replace the Lake Lander’s computer after maintenance. The team is using the probe to develop smarter space exploration technology.
Andean Expedition: This month researchers travelled to the glacial lake in central Chile where the Lake Lander has floated for three years. Equipment was transported to the remote camp by burro.
The Floating Robot: Scientists and engineers from NASA and the SETI Institute built the Planetary Lake Lander to test technologies that could one day help explore the seas of Saturn’s moon Titan.
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