London: A special unmanned aircraft similar to the drones used by CIA in Pakistan and Afghanistan has been built to fly over Saturn`s largest moon Titan and help scientists build up a picture of the planet`s geology.
The USD 715-million Aviatr probe, which weighs just 120kg, has been designed to take 3D photos of the surface of Titan that has fascinated scientists because of its thick, cloudy atmosphere.
At the end of the mission, plutonium-powered craft would dive down to surface and attempt a landing on Titan`s dunes, the Daily Mail reported. Scientists believe that Titan is uniquely suited for heavier-than-air craft. The moon`s gravity is relatively low, but its atmosphere is thick, which would mean that a heavier than aircraft such as Aviatr could stay airborne for longer, they said.
The moon is thickly shrouded in clouds, and scientists are intrigued about what lies beneath. Unlike a balloon – the rival method proposed for missions to Titan -- Aviatr would allow scientists to precisely control its altitude, and build up a library of 3D images of the surface and Titan`s weather.
According to scientists, Titan is bigger than the Earth`s Moon and even the planet Mercury. The temperature at Titan`s surface is about -178 degrees centigrade.
The Aviatr, designed by a team of scientists led by Jason Barnes at University of Idaho, would be much nimbler than a balloon and would use its plutonium-powered generator to stay on the "day" side of Titan to make the most of its photographing time.
It would go into a glide to save power whenever it was sending images "back home". Like earthly aircraft, it would have a "safe mode" where it would remain steady in Titan`s atmosphere when necessary -- ensuring it didn`t come to harm if its communication link broke, the scientists said.
The US forces have been using such unmanned combat crafts to locate Taliban hideouts in Afghanistan and in the Western border regions of Pakistan.