Engineers are constantly planning for the future. In space exploration, this
means coming up with innovative and energy-efficient ways to study harsh but
scientifically interesting environments that are millions or billions of
miles from Earth. The Aerover Blimp is one concept JPL engineers are
considering–in this case, for a proposed future visit to Titan, one of
Saturn’s moons.

The Aerover is a small helium-filled blimp that can be steered and moved up
and down within the atmosphere to explore different altitudes. Three
propellers are likely to be used to allow this maneuvering.

The ability of this blimp to move and be repositioned allows for its use as
a mobile aerial platform to carry instruments that take readings from
different locations, and even follow up on interesting features. Landing is
accomplished with an inflatable wheel on the bottom of the blimp, which can
cushion a landing on ice, rocks or other surfaces. The blimp will also
provide flotation on potential liquid methane oceans, thus making the
Aerover the ultimate all-terrain-vehicle. The Aerover will likely have the
ability to fly along at 10 kilometers altitude (about 6 miles),
circumnavigating the moon every one or two weeks and providing imaging and
science well below the upper opaque clouds that prevent viewing from Earth
or from orbit.

The proposed helium-filled blimp could have a fabric outer surface with an
inner balloon containing helium. Helium is used because it is the second
lightest element, and is inert, eliminating the danger of fire or explosion
before and during launch from Earth. Overall size may be about 10 meters (33
feet) in length and 2.5 meters (8 feet) in diameter – roughly the length and
height of a stretch limousine. Overall weight may be about 100 kilograms
(220 pounds).

Titan is of great interest to scientists because observations have indicated
the presence of a rich organic atmosphere, which helps create the building
blocks of complex organic compounds. This leads scientists to speculate that
present-day conditions on Saturn’s moon may be similar to those on Earth
billions of years before life emerged here.

Our first close-up look at Titan will be when the Cassini spacecraft arrives
in the Saturn system in 2004. The spacecraft will deploy the Huygens probe
to study Titan, gathering data that may lead to a mission after 2010, with
the possible use of the Aerover Blimp for further exploration.

American Blimp Corporation is studying various designs of an experimental
blimp for JPL?s exploration of Titan.

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