Sunday, July 15, 2007

Colonization of Titan-- The Future Persian Gulf?

(Note: this is a continuation of the The Space Colonization Series)
In terms of potential locations in the outer solar system, Saturn's moon Titan is usually mentioned right off the bat. It is a prime location for human survival in the outer regions because of its great abundance of all the necessary organic materials. The atmosphere contains large amounts of methane and nitrogen and it is believed that both liquid water and liquid ammonia are locked under the surface and occasionally pushed out through volcanic activity. Water and methane could be used as both propellants for a rocket and for a colony's power supply. Nitrogen, methane, and ammonia could be used as a source of fertilizer for growing food. The water could also obviously be used for drinking and for oxygen.

Now, looking in an even more speculative nature, Titan would be a major target for a future fusion based economy. We will soon run out of oil on Earth and we will inevitably need to find another source of power. If we ever make a break through on fusion power we know we will need two things that aren't readily available on Earth: helium-3 and deuterium. Saturn has a relatively high amount of these resources available and Titan would be an ideal spot to mine and collect from.

True color image of Titan taken by Cassini. More images of Titan from NASA.

The Cold, Hard Facts

True color image of Titan Surface taken by Huygens. More information from NASA.
Titan is cold. Really, really cold. The temperature is about -180 degrees Celsius. This type of cold also isn't quite as easy to deal with as the cold we would encounter in space or on the Moon. No, Titan's thick atmosphere makes this very difficult. Thermo-insulation becomes a much bigger problem. Fortunately, this problem could potentially be solved be building a protective layer around a habitat. By evacuating a space in between an outer shell and the inner habitat heat loss could be lowered to a more manageable level akin to a lunar habitat's requirements for thermal insulation.

The thick atmosphere does provide some advantages, however. At about 1.47 times the atmospheric pressure of Earth--equivalent to 5 meters under water on Earth--the atmosphere would protect inhabitants from potentially deadly doses of radiation that would be of concern on outposts on Mars, the Moon, or the asteroids. The quality of Titan's atmosphere also greatly decreases the engineering complexity of any aerobraking and landing techniques.

At least one more advantage exists for its atmosphere when combined with Titan's relatively low gravity of 0.14 g's. This unique combination makes flying much easier. So much easier, in fact, that a human could simply strap on some wings and take flight (with a pressurized suit on of course). Other than for human enjoyment and recreation, easier flight requirements could be taken advantage of for more near-term, exploratory missions like sending probes that float around the atmosphere in blimps, hot air balloons, or autonomous planes. Alas, like the atmosphere of Titan, the low gravity also has its disadvantages. Namely the health problems associated with low-g environments.

Personally, I believe Titan will never be more than a mining or research outpost but who knows? Perhaps it could some day be terraformed and become a bastion for thousands or even millions of colonists in the future. It does, after all, contain an abundant amount of the necessary organic materials needed for life as we know it. What do you think? Could you see Titan in our future?

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Anonymous said...
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Anonymous said...

Somebody should design a bootstrapping Titan development package to prepare it for us. The package that lands contains a windmill that powers (1)a small chemical plant to produce plastics and buckytube based metal emulator materials from local materials namely carbon (2) a parts factory with assembler robot to convert the parts into new machines, namely (a) windmills (b)chemical plants, and (c) parts factories.
When this has replicated enough, Earth based controllers will send instructions to switch some production to plants to produce food, habitation contstuction, and both spacecraft and fuel for them. Then you send people to move in. It could be done cheap and with no new technology and would really work.

Critto said...

reseearch base on Titan? Probably, why not.
Mass industry on Titan? Definetely NO. This moon is so unique environment, that it should be left alone as it is; it should be make a Space Nature Reserve. It's the only celestial body we know except Earth that has lakes, rivers, seas... It's a totally stable environment, with -100 Celsius temperatures and liquid ethane and methane instead of water; waves strike on the dunes made of frozen CO2... Probably some form of ammonia-based or methane-based life can exist there, but even if no, TITAN IS TO BE LEFT ALONE.

winston said...

How do we handle the health issues concerning the bone loss? Could something similar be done in Saturn's atmosphere like you speculate could be done on Venus? Could workers living on Titan combat this health problem with frequent trips into Saturn's atmosphere for work or something like floating day spas?

However it is done, I don't see how any place can be singled out as a preserve. We should guarantee our survival first and preserve what we can when all is said and done. If we regulate anything, it should be commercial interests to a percentage of a company's activity in space. Meaning, a company operating off world must be contributing more to the human survival agenda than it is earning in profits.

joek said...

Alone? Leave Titan alone??!!!! Time to face facts folks, we live on a little speck of dust in a huge, dangerous universe. Human life can be extinguished in a nanosecond by any number of cosmic or man-made disasters. Further, evidence is mounting that we are the ONLY intelligence in our galaxy, if not the universe. Guaranteeing the survival of mankind is the MOST IMPORTANT endeavor we should be embarking on. Not just exploring space and coming home - colonizing space, and establishing a SELF SUFFICENT BEACHHEAD as a safety valve against some cataclysmic earth disaster. Titan is probably the BEST place to do that. We should be doing WHATEVER is necessary to establish a permanent presence on Titan. Mars and the moon are desolate wastelands in comparison - Titan is the way to go!

Grobblewobble said...

Notice the irony in comment 1 by 'Carlos'. The article is about colonizing Titan and this (spambot?) comment mentions 'colonizing' Costa Rica. :-)

On topic, though -- Pat, these are very inspiring articles, well done!

When envisioning the future of a colonized Titan, though, I somehow can't help thinking of huge industrial refineries. The environment seems too hostile to colonize just for the sake of living there, but has enormous reserves of valuable recources, so mining could no doubt become attractive in the future.

I guess I can understand Critto's feelings.

Anonymous said...

It is useful to try everything in practise anyway and I like that here it's always possible to find something new. :)

Anonymous said...

Such a well written post.. Thnkx for sharing this post!

kamagra said...

We should be thinking in the moon, we spend a lot of $$ by going orbital position, we can even go to Mars, and they are thinking far beyond, what a joke.

kurt9 said...

The habitat city-state should be in circum-Titan orbit and would be called "Skimmers Union". The wealth of the city-state is reassuringly close in the form of the hydrocarbon laden atmosphere that is mined by fusion power dredges, with the mined hydrocarbons fueling the city-states polycarbon and biotech factories.

Its not like the other city-states, such as Goldreich-Tramaine, that banked too much on loose credit and finance industry.

Anonymous said...

whp wrote it

Anonymous said...

who wrote this page?

Anonymous said...

Sad for all the spam in these comments.
The Outer Space Treaty encourages us to keep space environments pristine, but I believe we should spoil them somewhat in return for a a pristine environment on Earth - where most people will live for the forseeable future. Titan though, I can see it as a holiday destination for boating and balooning.

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