PRE2020 4 Group5

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Members Student ID Faculty E-mail
Ive Harzing 1325094 AP
Tim Kolen 1311506 AP
Peter Duel 1236313 ME
Quentin Missinne 1435957 ME
Johan van Tien 1455788 ME


Image of Titan in true colour

The great unknowns of space might soon become the known; various government and private space exploration companies have started projects to discover Mars, the nearest planet where life might be possible. However, it might not be the only celestial body with life-creating conditions, as possible conditions for primitive life can be found on one of the moons of Saturn as well: Titan.

Titan features a dense atmosphere of nitrogen and methane. It is the only other spacial body, besides Earth, to have surface liquids. Beneath its surface, it possibly features a layer of ice and liquid water. Although the conditions are not perfect for earth-like life, it could form the base for lifeforms of other kinds.

The goal of this project is to design a system to search for life (or traces thereof) on the surface of Titan. As Titan is far away from earth, communication is restricted; this means the system will have to independently be able to discover the unknowns of the planet. Using AI the device will have to navigate, identify points-of-interest, and hopefully discover life on Titan.

Project Description

The conditions on Titan are harsh. [...]

Since Titans distance from earth, communication is delayed by 70 to 90 minutes.[1] This means that if the vehicle gets stuck, it will cost over an hour before that information arrives on earth, and then double it before commands to get unstuck arrives back at the device. Human controlled navigation would take up a lot of time and is not sufficient. It would be best if a rover would be able to navigate and investigate autonomously, with as few human interventions as possible.

Something about Astrobiology ??

Project Objectives

The device should be able to do the following:

  1. To safely arrive on Titan's surface
  2. To move around on Titan independently and without the need of human intervention
  3. Identify (evidence of) lifeforms
  4. Communicate findings back to earth, possibly via a satellite or other external device

The projects will focus mainly on the programming component of the rover to achieve the second and third point, while keeping the other objectives as well as the physical component of the rover in mind.


  • Are we sure this is enough? Don't we want to elaborate a bit more in the subsections?

In space exploration, the lines between User, Society and Enterprise are often more vague than in other fields. This is because one entity can be in all three groups at once, with the main example being NASA.

NASA is a User of the satellites and spacecrafts that are in space, using them to conduct research in many different topics.

NASA is also Society, since it is a government driven and funded entity. NASA has its own administrator, but the decision making is also heavily influenced by Congress.

Lastly, NASA has a major role in Enterprise, not to make profit themselves (since they’re funded by the Government), but to fund other companies that build rockets and satellites.

So the Governmental space administrations usually fall in all three categories. Besides that, there are the companies, who usually fall in the groups User and Enterprise, and the scientists, who fall in the groups User and Society.


  • Governmental Space agencies, such as NASA, ESA, JAXA, Roscosmos
  • Independent and commercial satellite producers, such as JPL, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK
  • Commercial rocket producers (potentially), such as ULA, SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin
  • Universities
  • astrophysicists


There is no direct impact on society by the robot. However, by extension it has influence on:

  • Various other kinds of researchers
    • Evolutionary biologists
    • Planetary biochemistry
    • Formation of planets
  • Investors and entrepreneurs investing and working with space related business
  • Long term: possibly everyone depending on what is found


Similar to the users:

  • Governmental Space agencies, such as NASA, ESA, JAXA, Roscosmos
  • Independent and commercial satellite producers, such as JPL, Lockheed Martin, Orbital ATK
  • Commercial rocket producers (potentially), such as ULA, SpaceX, Boeing, Blue Origin

RPC List


  • Get to Titan, the device must be able to reach Titan.
  • Durability, the materials the device is made of must be able to sustain the environment, meaning it should not erode quickly or react chemically with Titan's atmosphere or surface.
  • Survivable, the device should be able to handle temperatures as low as 90K, and be able to deal with winds of up to 34m/s (122km/h)
  • Longevity, there must be an energy source on the device that enables the device to collect sufficient data.
  • Autonomy, with light having to travel 60 to 90 minutes from Earth to Titan the device must be able to operate (partly) autonomously since it cannot be directly controlled from earth due to the massive 'input lag' caused by the distance between Earth and Titan.
  • Consistent communication, the device should be able to communicate in a consistent format with Earth.
  • Navigation, the device should be able to navigate Titan without getting itself stuck.
  • Ethical treatment, when life is encountered the device should be able to recognize this and act accordingly.


  • Flexible ways of travel, the device should be able to travel across both land and lakes/rivers and should be able to traverse canyons as well.
  • Redundancy, when vital components stop working, it should have redundant backup parts such that it is able to function again afterwards.
  • Simulation, the device should have a proper model to simulate the device's behavior on Earth for verification.
  • Obtaining data, the device should be able to obtain data via camera, infrared, and XXX(?).
  • In case of rover: Geo-locate, the device should be able to identify its location on the surface.
  • In case of Satellite: Orbital-location, the device should be able to identify its current position with reference to its orbit.
  • Use ready data: data obtained from the device should be formatted in a way that it is ready for use. E.g. maps should be directly renderable in GIS.
  • Constant data flow, such that information passes to and from the device continuously.
  • sustainability, the material used should have the potential of being recovered, and if not, should be safe to leave on titan without causing damage to the enviroment, or when in orbit would not create space debris.
  • Universal Program, the code written for the operation of the device (in all cases) should not restrict the availability of potential imput from other software, and should allow a large range of possible contribution.


  • Maximum size, the device must fit into the rocket so it can be transported.
  • Maximum weight, the device cannot weigh more than (to be determined) in order for the rocket to launch properly.
  • Cost/Realizability, the device/mission has to be approved by a governmental Space Agency (probably NASA), to get funding.


Conditions of Life

To be able to 'find life', the priliminary problem is determining how this can be done. Therefore, before describing how we can find life on Titan, an investigation into what signs of life are has to be made. The following subsection is dedicated to this, as well as elaborating on the different forms of life. Once this has been thoroughly covered, the instruments used to do this can be further explained.

There are three mayor components that need to be met in order for life to be able to exist on a planet:

  • Energy, this is needed in order to fuel chemical reactions like metabolism. A form of energy would be warmth which would be a concern for Titan as it has an average surface temperature of 90 to 94 K. This doesn't make life on Titan impossible though since certain extremophiles might still be able to live there. For example, the tardigrade is a micro-animal discovered on Earth that is able to survive temperatures near zero Kelvin.[2]
  • Protection from UV radiation, ultra violet light can damage or even break complex molecules which impedes the existance of complex life. Luckily, Titan's atmosphere is able to block most UV radiation similarly to Earth's ozone layer is able to do this[3] meaning this condition is satisfied everywhere on Titan.
  • Complex chemistry, Life as we know it on Earth is able to extract energy from its environment in order to survive via various methods. These methods require certain specific molecules to exist as building blocks on the planet. These methods create different molecules that would otherwise never have existed as waste products. These waste products and building blocks are called biosignatures and are a great indication of life having existed in either the present or past.


The organisms on Titan will not be similar to those usually found on earth, but rather be what we call 'extremophiles', organisms that thrive in what normally is considered harsh conditions. The lack of oxygen but availability of methane in the atmosphere suggest that if there is life on the surface of the moon, it will likely be adapted to use it.[4] These organisms use what is called "reverse methanogenesis", in which methane and sulfate are transformed into bisulfide, bicarbonate and water.[5] These chemicals, and their derivatives, could be indications of life. If a researcher would want to investigate this kind of life, a good chance would be to send the rover to one of the methane lakes on the surface.[6]

Alternatively, there could be a type of anaerobe organism, who does not require oxygen. Various types can be found on Earth, which range from having a metabolism that could survive in case it lacks oxygen to being poisoned and killed by any oxygen. These organisms can be sorted into three categories[7]:

  • Facultative anaerobes (which can use oxygen, but can also thrive without it)
  • Aerotolerant organisms (which can deal with oxygen but does not use it)
  • Obligate anaerobes (which cannot thrive in environments with oxygen)

It is likely that if there's life on Titan of this type, it would be of the latter two types. The chemical processes used in these kinds of lifeforms instead of the regular air-based cycle can vary greatly. And with each alternative cycle, there are different extraneous substances that can be traced.[7][8] However, using the (known components of the) environment of Titan, we can identify a set of likely process and use their by-products as potential markers for Titan life.

These traceable by-products consist of various metals in certain electron configurations and (bi-)sulfide. table with all the processes


Biosignatures are “features that must be sufficiently complex and/or abundant so that they retain a diagnostic expression of some of life’s universal attributes” [9]. Another essential characteristic is that their formation by nonbiological processes be highly improbable. Informational biopolymers like DNA or polypeptides, for example, would be examples of biosignatures that are highly unlikely to arise in the absence of biology. These concepts govern the selection of candidate biosignatures, which are ranked by how well they pass three criteria: reliability (i.e., a feature that is more likely to be produced by life), survivability (i.e., the ability of the biosignature to be preserved or otherwise persist in its environment), and detectability (the likelihood that the biosignature can be observed or measured).[10][11][12] Using these rankings, features of life were listed by NASA in the 'Ladder of Life Detection'.[13]

Earth-like life

Life on Earth has been investigated thoroughly. This research has resulted in a list of biosignatures for Earth-like life:

  • Molecular Oxygen O2, Generated by planet photosynthesis from sunlight, CO2 and water. Number of strong absorption bands, especially at visible wavelengths, but they can be easily confused (false-positives).
  • Ozone O3, This is a photolytic product of O2, so its presence also requires life, if at second hand. Has a strong, distinct Infrared absorption band that makes it easier to spot and less prone to confusion than O2.
  • Carbon Dioxide CO2, Shows a planet has an atmosphere (secondary indicator). Has a number of strong, distinct infrared absorption bands.
  • Water Vapor H2O, Essential for life. Would be a sign that liquid water is possible, but it is not foolproof.
  • Methane CH4, In oxidizing atmospheres, Methane is a byproduct of anaerobic chemistry associated with certain kinds of bacteria (methanobacteria), either arcaeobacteria in the pre-biotic Earth, or methanobacteria living in the guts of ruminant animals like sheep and cows (and humans, too). Strong infrared absorption band that is easily visible even with relatively small (fraction of a percent) concentrations in an atmosphere.

Methane based life

It is speculated life can exist that is based of methane instead of the water based life that is found on Earth. If this kind of life would exist on Titan, it would be easier to detect than water based life. This is because there are methane lakes on the surface while liquid water can only be found beneath the surface. Methane based life can extract energy from the following reactions:

  • $ C_{2}H_{2}+3H_{2} \rightarrow 2CH_{4} $
  • $ C_{2}H_{6}+H_{2} \rightarrow 2CH_{4} $
  • $ R-CH_{2}+H_{2} \rightarrow R + CH_{4} $

This means that the biosignatures for methane based life would be:

  • A lack of H2
  • A high concentration of CH4


  • Introduction about the instruments?, has to be rewritten as it is just a list now

NASA’s curiosity rover is equipped with several cameras and sensors. Generally speaking they consist of the following:

  • Cameras
  • Spectrometers
  • Radiation Detectors
  • Environmental sensors
  • Atmospheric sensors

The cameras are used for visualization and orientation during descent and exploration.

  • Mahli – microscopic imaging – Identify minerals in a rock or debris->Indication of life
  • Mardi - provides view during descent for better exploration path planning – For NASA data is send back to earth after landing so the so-called Earthbound planners can plan the route for the rover. This could be an interesting part to further look into as this could possibly be extended with some AI-features. Like recognizing patterns and planning the route itself.

Spectrometers are commonly used in chemical analysis. These devices can separate matter by their mass for example.

  • APXS – radiation detection for types of elements
  • ChemCam – uses laser and spectrometer to vaporize and analyze the chemicals
  • CheMin – spectrometer

SAM (sample analysis)

  • Gas chromatograph
  • Mass spectrometer, the sample needs to be a gas. This means that if the methane lake is investigated, the sample needs to be boiled first. The boiling points of the important chemicals are: -161,6 °C (methane), -252,9 °C, ($H_{2}$) and -103,7 °C (ethene).
  • Tunable Laser Spectrometer

Radiation sensors

  • RAD – radiation assessment detector – for future human exploration
  • DAN – detection subsurface water

Environmental sensor

  • REMS – weather station

Atmospheric sensor

  • MEDLI – collect engineering data during descent into atmosphere – material study

Conclusions that can be drawn from this, is that there are different sensors for different end-goals. Observation, navigation, material study via various ways(taking samples or collecting data on radiation), a weather station and collecting data entering the atmosphere. Keep in mind this is only from NASA’s Curiosity rover. NASA’s perseverance rover is an upgraded version with solar-powered drone, which I have not looked into much deeper.

From what we have discussed so far, it is best to focus our interest in the material study and navigation.

Further investigation into Ingenuity (the mars helicopter)

  • We don't use this

Because Ingenuity is only built to test if a 'drone' of sorts can fly on Mars, it does not have the same collection of sensors and cameras as the curiosity rover or preservance. That being said, there is an extremely high level of engineering dedicated to the flight of Ingenuity, which could be taken into account when considering our own hardware end product. Whilst Ingenuity is the pinacle of technological advancements (considering it is the first UAV to fly on Mars), it is still quite rudementary with the following Hardware:

  • Dimensions:
    • Body: 0.136 m x 0.195m x 0.163m (cubic shape)
    • Landing 'legs' 0.384 m (length)
    • Rotor Diameter: 1.2m
    • Height: 0.49 m
    • Landing mass: 1.8 kg with 273 g tatal mass of batteries
    • Power output: 350 W

Further investigation into Ingenuity Gives the following flight characteristics:

  • Rotor speed: 2400 rpm
  • Blade tip speed: <0.7 mach
  • Operation time: 1-5 flights within 30 sols
  • Flight time: Max. 120 seconds per flight.
  • Maximum flight range: 600 m
  • Maximum radio range: 1000 m
  • Maximum planned attitude: 10 m
  • Maximum speed:
    • Horizontal: 10 m/s
    • Vertical: 3 m/s
  • Battery capacity: 35-40 Wh

From these fundemental statistics of the Ingenuity copter, we can conclude the following. Whilst this is an impressive feat to achieve (flight on Mars of a UAV), it is not nearly sufficient for what we would be planning and therefore several adaptations would need to be made. Most notably, as greater flight times would be expected (with greater max. alttitude & range), a greater radio communication range would be required. For any of this to be implemented, greater dimensions would be required. This also means that greater batteries would be needed, and much larger rotor speeds would be almost manditory. Therefore, further investigation into how this can be done needs to be made.

Can a thermal infrared sensor be used to detect life?

accuracy IR sensor: ?

A cell uses about 10 millions ATP molecules per second. Energy/ATP: 7300 calories/L ATP = 30543.2 Joules/L ATP = 5.07181768*10^(-20) Joules/molecule ATP

Energy consumption per cell: 5.07181768*10^(-13) W Assuming an efficiency of 90 percent the amount of heat exerted per cell is 5.63535298*10^(-14) W meaning a colony must be (insert concentration here) in order for the detector being able to detect this.


In hopes of satisfying the USEr, we want to focus on key aspects of the project, most notably the deliverable. This can be done by taking several assumptions, most notably the spacecraft used, the size of the payload, the weight of the payload and any other details which would prove relvant to the problem, but irrelevant to the final deliverable. In hopes of doing this, the assumptions made will be further elaborated here.

Rocket Specifications

In order to reach Titan, a rocket must be taken into considertion. There are two paths that could be taken into consideration. For the first method we could attempt to calculate all the requirements to reach Titan, using several equations to extrapulate all relevant information to determine the rocket which we would use. This would most likely result in the selection of the Falcon Heavy X rocket created by SpaceX. Alternately, in hopes of specifying on the project itself, we can attempt to use what has already been done and focus purely on the deliverable for the USEr. For the later case, the Cassinni-Huygens mission could closesly be mirrored. For this reason, the Cassinni rocket will be taken into consideration. A full detailed specification of this rocket will be listed here-after.


The cassini rocket was used in 1997 in an attempt to investigate the athmosphere of the moons of Saturn (which, notably included Titan). This rocket would prove fruitful to use because it suits the exact conditions that we would be interpretting. As it follows, the rocket would be used for the 7 year journey to the gas giant carrying the payload, which would then be released on Titan in hopes of investigating the surface and sub-surface for biosignitures. Here below are the rocket dimensions:

  • Rocket:
    • 6.8 [m] Tall (Approximately the size of a school bus)
    • weight: 5,612 [kg],
  • Probe:
    • 2.7 [m] wide
    • weight: 318 [kg].

From these dimensions we can set a basic guideline for the payload which will be used in terms of dimensional constraints. These will be elaborated here-after.

Payload Specifications

Because the payload varies with the distance the rocket travels, we need to make an approximation for how much mass we can consider within the payload capacity to dedicate to the rover itself. To make this approximation we will look at previous missions to Mars and other planetary bodies in hopes of coming to a decisive conclusion.

  • Weight: (rover+payload)
    • Mars 317,083,743 km – 16800 kg
    • Pluto 5,059,488,081 km – 3500 kg
    • Titan 1,609,344,000 km – estimated 13800kg

Now that we have the weight we can bring to titan, we can also begin looking at our available dimensions. Fortunately this is something given in the information of the Falcon X Heavy, and we can simply plug those in below:

Dimensions: (payload constrained) Height: 13.1m Diameter: 5.2m

Because we seek to determine the perfect rover for this experiment, the final decision is to be made between two existing rovers: the Curiosity rover and Preservance. These have the following dimensions:

  • Curiosity:
    • weight: 899kg
    • dimensions: 3x2.7x2.2m
  • Perseverance:
    • weight: 1025kg
    • dimensions: 3x2.7x2.2m

The main difference between Curiosity and Perseverance is related to the goal of the rover. Where Curiosity studies rocks onsite, Perseverance collects rocks and also has new gadgets attached to the arm.

Power source:

‘’ The power source is called a "Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator" or MMRTG for short. The MMRTG converts heat from the natural radioactive decay of plutonium into electricity. This power system charges the rover's two primary batteries. The heat from the MMRTG is also used to keep the rover's tools and systems at their correct operating temperatures. ‘’ - This is straight up copied!!

Plutonium Dioxide energy source. Over 30 years a reliable source of energy for NASA. With increasing power(Curiosity 100W(2011), Perseverance 110W(2020)). I looked into solar energy. However due to the distance from the sun to Titan, the solar energy on titan is about 0.1 percent of that of earth. Although there is little to no difference between day and night, so a constant power supplied by the sun, using solar energy would require an abnormal amount of solar panels, which would not be efficient.

Temperature control

  • Maybe after the instruments we choose

From what we have seen so far, there seemed to be no real new challenges in comparison to already executed missions to mars for example. There is a variety of rockets to choose from, dozens of sensors to select, which all contribute to different end-goals. However, this has all been done before. To sent a rover with the right equipment to Titan is not the challenge. What the real challenge is, is to overcome the extreme environment of Titan. On Mars the average temperature is -63 degrees celsius, whereas on Titan it is even colder, -179 degrees celsius. **add sources** To keep the rover from freezing and stalling, thus failing the mission, the right amount of heat has to be supplied to prevent any failure due to the low temperatures. Not only heat supply can be used, also using the right materials and the use of insulation and radiation, the rover can be kept warm. **sentence about said techniques are elaborated below**

Gold paint and insulation

To prevent heat from escaping the rover, insulation is used. Insulation is the reduction of heat transfer, in this case less heat being transferred from the rover to the colder environment. Two key factors influencing the insulation are emissivity and thermal conductivity.

Emissivity is the rate of emitted energy as thermal radiation. According to the Stefan-Boltzmann law, emissivity is the ratio from 0 to 1 of thermal radiation with an ideal black surface being 1. So a black surface has a high emissivity, i.e. it emits the most thermal radiation. Shiny objects have a much lower emissivity coefficient. This is why it is not recommended to wear any dark colored clothes in the summer and why your thermos has a shiny surface. The same principle can be used on Titan and is used for numerous rovers. With the use of the correct materials, the rover is better protected against heatloss. NASA also uses this principle (source). They so called 'sputter' gold paint on the rovers surface. This gold paint is highly reflective and thus decreases the emitted heat through radiation.

Another way to prevent heat transfer is thermal conductivity. Materials with a low thermal conductivity can be used for insulation. Insulation can be found in a lot of things, at home, in your car and also on a space rover. Aerogel, a true engineering masterpiece, is used by NASA as insulation for their rovers and space suits and the US navy uses it for their diving suits.**some sort of conclusive sentence**

Internal heating and control

In order to keep the rover functioning in its entirety (sensors, motors and other technical components), an Internal heating system must be used to keep the sensors working within their thermal operatinal limits. To do this we will once more take an existing system and replicate it to be used for the specified payload. The Europa Clipper mission is set to launch in 2024, where in a satallite will be set into orbit of Saturn's Moon Europa. This satallite has a regular heating system where in tubes filled with fluid are heated and passed throughout the system in hopes of using convection to heat the internal of the payload {Add reference}. Furthermore, the satallite incorperates control valves to manage the heating of the system. These valves work using the following concept. When the internal temperature drops from the thermal operation range, the fluid-containing tubes are heated, causing the internal system to heat up with fluid flowwing through the tubes which is constantly exposed to a heat sourc. Once the internal temperature has reaches a predefined temperature, the valves shut off keeping the heated fluid in the tubes, such that the heat remains within the system for a prolonged time. Once the internal system drops below the threshold the flow is set again, exposing the water to the heat source once more. This cycle will constantly continue keeping the system adaquately heated.

Heat Source and sink considerations

The main heat source of the Rover would be the MMRTG (Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator), as the way it generates electricity is by converting heat with a thermocouple. MMRTGs like the one in the Curiosity rover or the Huygens lander generate 110W of electrical power, and 2000W of thermal power. The instruments and batteries on the rover may also generate a small amount of heat when running, but this is negligible when compared to the MMRTG (as it will only be a fraction of the electrical power they consume). The heat from the MMRTG would be distributed to the instruments with a fluid loop with a high thermal conductance. As for the heat losses, the main concerns are things that penetrate the insulation layer, such as: instruments, structural mounts, antennas and camera windows. A definite number for the amount of heat that is lost can only really be obtained through experiments.

Instruments on board

The robot will equip the following sensors.

MAHLI camera

Just like the Curiosity mars rover, the Titan rover will be equipped with a microscopic imaging device to analyse material textures and rock structures. It can be used to analyse the soil, which is useful for both geologists as well as biologists. The system outputs thumbnail images for selection to earth. The researchers can then select the interesting ones, which then get sent in full resolution.[14] It is possible to send the data on these images on select intervals, whenever it takes an image, or on request.

The Mars model is suitable for -70 degrees Celsius (203 K) (with -50 degrees (223 K) preferred), so the system will have to be kept warm or methods need to be found to let it work under colder conditions. Preferably both, but whichever is the easiest to achieve.

On-board weather station

Beside searching for life, the rover can also measure the environment it is working in. Any data it gathers on the weather on Titan will prove to be useful for future missions. It can also prove to be necessary on some of the data it acquires. On top of that, it can also give insight on what conditions possible lifeforms will have to survive in.

Without going into too much detail, the weather station will consists of the following instruments:

  • An external temperature sensor with the range of 98 to at least 85 K; Titans temperature fluctuates little[15], and a 5 degree error margin on top of the already measured temperature range might prove sufficient.
  • A wind speed meter that records both the strength and direction of the wind. To do so, various methods are available which all have their advantages and disadvantages. The following options are suitable [16]:
    • An option is the Laser Doppler velocimetry, which has the advantage of being totally independent from temperature for calibration. It can also be miniaturised well, and is able to get measurement a little distance away from the vehicle, with which it can get a more accurate free stream velocity.
    • An alternative is an ultrasonic anemometer. It doesn’t use moving parts (which makes it more reliable in the harsh conditions) and can be used very accurately. Using three antennas, it can also be used to determine the path of the wind. Looking at the State of Art, this method might be most suitable.
    • There are also other kinds of anemometers, but these will not be mentioned, because they either consume a lot of electricity or use moving parts, which is undesirable since maintenance is not an option.
  • To determine air pressure, a simple (micro-)electronic barometer system can be used. For back-up, pressure can also be estimated using the ultrasonic anemometer and the temperature sensor.
  • And a little light-cell can be used to determine light levels on the surface. Using deviations from previous data, it can be used to determine clouds and such.

All this data can be compressed locally on the rover and be sent as a package to Earth. Generally, a set time interval can be used to determine the values of the environment without having to run the instruments constantly. The data itself can be compressed with various methods, such as averaging (possibly assisted with sending peaks and valleys).

Beside regular interval measurements, the system could perhaps also start recording in extreme weather cases (e.g. sudden high winds, drop in pressure, etc.), to get data on storms on Titan for future missions.

weather station data file:

Time-of-flight mass spectrometer (TOFMS)

A TOFMS uses the converts the potential energy of charges particles into kinetic energy and sends these particles through a tube. The time it takes for the particles to travel through the tube is recorded. This way the mass of the particles is be obtained because smaller particles will have higher velocities. The recorded mass can be used to see what molecules the sample consists of.

data from cassini's mass spectrometer: link

how to import the data to python: link

Gas chromatograph (needs to be edited still)

Gas Chromatograph The gas chromatograph is essentially a filter. It separates compounds present in the gas mixture. There are 3 basic components to a gas chromatograph:

  • Carrier gas supply: a gas of specific type and pressure to seperate the components present in a gaseous mixture
  • Sample introduction system: where sample is taken into the system
  • Detection system: gives a signal that tells scientists what gases are present

The carrier gas of a gas chromatograph is very important. It varies for the gas chromatograph used, but in general the gas must be chemically inert, dry, and free of oxygen. These conditions are required because otherwise the carrier gas might chemically react and interfere with the surface of the gas chromatograph or the gases being studied.

The carrier gas has 2 purposes:

  • Push the gas through the gas chromatograph column
  • Clean out the gas chromatograph column after sample analysis

The Huygens GCMS uses approximately 3 standard liters (about 0.8 gallons) hydrogen gas as carrier gas. This quantity allows for the planned 2 to 3 hour descent sequence and provides a 50% reserve. Once the hydrogen gas is turned on, it remains on throughout the mission, continually flowing through the GCMS.

Gas Chromatograph: Carrier Gas Supply Once the scientists start the gas flow, the hydrogen carrier gas flows into the capillary columns. The Huygens GCMS has 3 columns. These columns are designed to detect compounds that the scientists think might be present:

  • Column 1: to separate carbon monoxide, nitrogen, and other stable gases
  • Column 2: to separate nitriles (compounds containing nitrogen) and other organics (compounds containing carbon) up to 3 carbon atoms
  • Column 3: to separate large organic molecules

The columns are 10 to 20 meters of very tightly coiled silcosteel (as seen in the diagram on the previous page) coated with chemicals on the inside. The coating chemical is specifically chosen so that when gas is injected into the system, certain compounds from the gas will be adsorbed (stick weakly) into the column walls.

Single GC Column A Single GC Column The gas sample is injected into the 3 columns by momentarily opening a valve. The valve is then shut off, and the column is heated to a specified temperature. This releases the chemicals that are adsorbed on the wall, and they are sent to the detector for analysis.

Gas samples are taken approximately every 13 minutes. Of that time, 10 minutes are allotted for analyzing the sample; 3 minutes are allotted for cleaning the column out after analysis.

The gas chromatograph can work on many temperatures. However, the accuracy of the results is dependent on this. The higher the temperature the lower the accuracy. The sample needs to be either a gas or a liquid.

Conclusion research


Goal description

  • Further elaborated from whats already in the project description
  • What is our actual mission?

Flow chart

Operation diagram of the rover. Click on image to view full size.

Logically, the logic of the control code is important. To keep an overview of the actions of the rover, a flow diagram can be made of what the rover has to do. The focus here lays on the order of when each function of the rover is performed. Upon landing, the rover will basically perform two cycles: one determining Points of Interest (POI) and one investigating these POIs. Because of limitations of the mission discussed earlier, the rover will independently decide its actions and work fully independent, with a few points the ground-control can intervene or change priority.

In the most advanced case, the rover should be able to learn from its actions; based on how its investigations goes, it can adapt what is valued in a POI. For example, if it has checked a certain specific terrain feature a lot and found no evidence of life, it is likely no life will be there and therefore it does not need to investigate one of those area's again. These adjustments are then also requestable by ground-control, which then can also change the values to influence the rover more (for example, if it had too many false positives or false negatives and the identification logarithm has grown a strong bias).


  • What is autonomy and why is it usefull?

Life detection

  • What qualifies as a POI?

Our actual deliverable

  • Come up with a name
  • Elaborate on the code


  • when arrived at the point of interest
    • use the mass spectrometer
    • if a peak is at the mass of a molecule of a point of interest
      • use the MAHLI camera and store POI as interesting
    • else if peak is at a high mass
      • use the gas chromatograph
      • if cis-trans ratio is around 50 percent
        • use the MAHLI camera and store POI as not interesting
      • else
        • use the MAHLI camera and store POI as interesting
    • else
      • use the MAHLI camera and store POI as not interesting
  • go to next point of interest

Improvements on efficiency

  • Our goal was to make the rover more efficient, have we done that?
    • maybe this is part of the conclusion

Deliverable conclusion


Final Conclusion

  • Does the final product satisfy the user??
  • Relating our final conclusion back to the user is very important, the USEr is important in this USE course


  • Inaccuracy due to assumptions
  • Thoughts on how to improve the code

State of the Art:

Below this is all the references, who still need to be put in correctly and the actual state of the art has yet to be done


Test section

Test 1<ref name="test"> Test reference text. </ref>

Test 2<ref name="test"></ref>.

This will yield a small reference blue box we all know. The first time you use the source you have to fill in the info. The second example is how to reuse sources; you just reuse the name tag. (remember the close the box with </ref>!


  1. FAQ on the Dragonfly rotorcraft destined for Titan [1]
  2. Wikipedia - Tardigrades - [2]
  3. University of Colorado - Early Earth Haze Likely Provided Ultraviolet Shield for Planet, Says New CU-Boulder Study - [3]
  4. link
  5. "A conspicuous nickel protein in microbial mats that oxidize methane anaerobically", by ... [4]
  6. Methane lake article - [5]
  7. 7.0 7.1 Accessed 16/05/2021 link
  8. Section of wiki article - Accessed on 13/05/2021 - [6]
  9. (Des Marais et al. 2008)
  10. NASEM 2017
  11. Meadows 2017
  12. Meadows et al. 2018b
  13. NASA - Ladder of Life Detection - [7]
  14. Accessed 23/05/2021 [8]
  15. Temperature on titan, accessed on 23/5/2021 - [9]
  16. Paper on different kinds of windmeters that can be used on Mars, page 19 to 31 [10]

Uncited sources

  • Nature (magazine) on Lakes On Titan - link
  • Nature (journal) on Lakes On Titan - link
  • On Terrain features on a part of Titan - link
  • On extremophiles in astrobilogy - link
  • On finding evidence of fossilized bacteria (on earth) - link
  • Image based species identification - link
  • On rover-to-orbiter communication - link
  • DragonFly mission concept - link
  • Space exploration for life - link
  • The (progress of) development of autonomy technologies required to explore Titan - link
  • A page containing all info published by NASA about the Cassini mission - link
  • A page containing loads of information about Titan itself published by NASA - link
  • Geological map of Titan published by NASA - link
  • Impervious surface mapping - link
  • Achievements in space robotics - link
  • Dragonfly mission page - link
  • Gravity assisted space travel - link
  • The Oberth effect - link
  • NASA Scientists Discover ‘Weird’ Molecule in Titan’s Atmosphere - link
  • Pictures of Saturn and Titan - link
  • Modular Software for an Autonomous Space Rover - link
  • Real time map building - link
  • ESA Cassini-Huygens page - link
  • DragonFly concept paper - link
  • NASA Curiosity rover - link
  • NASA perseverance rover - link
  • Global path planning on Mars - link
  • Ingenuity Copter - [11]
  • Ingenuity Copter (Nasa) - [12]
  • Alternate ice planets - [13]
  • Exoplanet investigations - [14]
  • Preservence rover - [15]
  • Life in the universe - [16]
  • 200 different papers concerning thermal control - link
  • Mass Spectrometry results from Huygens - link
  • Europa Clipper passive heating system - [17]
  • AEGIS: ChemCam system - [file:///C:/Users/20190954/Documents/Mechanical%20Engineering/Year%202/Q4/0LAUK0/AEGIS%20paper.pdf]

Logbook and Structure

For a thoroughly catalogued timetable of the work contributed by team members, the Logbook Group 5 is used.

The hours mentioned within this logbook correspond to the Project Plan Adaptable Structure, where-in a continuously modified to-do list is given, as well as the priority of each task, and how far developped these tasks are.


Appendix-Link to our code