Colonization of Saturn

Saturn

Saturn is the second largest planet in the Solar System. Known for the rings orbiting it, Saturn is a huge gas giant, and colonizing it might be very challenging. When comparing to Jupiter, colonizing Saturn might be a bit easier, but building habitats and using its resources is going to be hard nevertheless.

Properties

Physical properties

Saturn is a gas giant, whose diameter at its equator is approximately 120 000 kilometres, which is about ten times the diameter of the Earth. The mass of the Saturn is about 95 times than the mass of the Earth. Saturn is the least dense of the planets in the Solar System, so the gravity at surface is about the same as on the Earth. However, as Saturn is a gas giant, the proper point of surface is hard to define.

Saturn resembles Jupiter in many ways. It most likely has a dense and rocky cory, which is surrounded by a layer of liquid metallic hydrogen and helium. The uppermost layer of the surface is mostly liquid hydrogen, and the atmosphere above it is mostly hydrogen gas.

Orbit and rotation

Saturn orbits the Sun about nine times farther than the Earth does. One orbit around the Sun takes a bit over 20 years. Because is is composed mostly of liquids and gases, the different parts rotate around the axle asynchronously. Most of the parts rotate around the axle in approximately 10-11 hours.

Moons

Saturn has over 150 objects that can be classified as moons or moonlets. Officially, there are over 60 moons, of which over 50 have been named. Only seven of the moons are large enough, that their gravity has made them almost round. Some of these seven moons might be interesting places for human habitat. Especially Titan is a place of interest, because it resembles a planet.

In addition to the Moons, Saturn has multiple rings orbiting the planet. Rings have microscopic particles, but also objects that are many meters in length. Rings might pose some problems for colonization, as going through them with spacecraft is dangerous.

Atmosphere

Atmosphere of Saturn consists mostly of hydrogen, with a few percent of helium. There are traces of other elements, such as ammonia, ethane, methane and propane. Atmosphere has visible weather phenomena, such as clouds.

Climate

Because of its distance from the Sun and the composition, Saturn is a cold planet. There are, however, some warmer spots in its atmosphere. In the upper parts of the atmosphere, temperatures are around -200 °C. At the level where the pressure is equal to sea level pressure on the Earth, temperatures are around -140 °C. At the point where pressure is about ten times more than the pressure of Earths sea level, temperatures might be suitable for humans. Pressure, however, is too much for humans to handle.

Colonization

Transport

Saturn is relatively far, so traveling there takes a while. Probes usually take many years to travel to Saturn, but one of the newest probes, New Horizons, passed Saturn after flying only just over two years. With current technology, it would be possible to do a round-trip travel to Saturn and back in around five years. With advancements in technology, the trip could be done faster in the future.

Habitats

Building habitats on Saturn will be hard, if not impossible. Because Saturn doesn’t have a solid surface, surface habitats are out of the question. Practically, the only solution would be to build floating habitats on the atmosphere, where pressure would be suitable for life. Cold temperatures and fast winds would probably be a huge problem. Colonizing the moons of Saturn could be a better option.

Energy

In the future, energy needs of habitats in Saturn could be fulfilled with nuclear fusion reactors. Saturn has most likely large resources of helium-3, which could be used as a fuel. Using solar energy wouldn’t probably be feasible because of the large distance from the Sun.

Communications

The time it takes to deliver messages to Saturn depends on the position of the Earth and Saturn. When planets are the closest, messages will be delivered in just over one hour. At the farthest position, it takes over one and a half hours for the messages to be delivered. This means that realtime communication between the planets is not possible.

Resources

Saturn has a lot of resources that the humans will hopefully be able to use in the future. The most important resource will probably be helium-3, that we might be able to use as fuel on nuclear fusion reactors. There are also large amounts of hydrogen, which can be used for many purposes.

Problem with Saturn, like Jupiter, is its large gravity. Harvesting and transporting resources from Saturn will be relatively expensive, and currently there are more sensible places that the same resources can be found. Therefore, Saturn won’t be probably colonized for a long time.

Summary

Saturn is a gas giant, which resembles Jupiter in many ways. Because of its strong gravity, harvesting resources from Saturn can be challenging. Floating habitats could be built for humans, but as there are easier targets for colonization in the Solar System, this probably won’t be done for a long time.