Colonization of Titan

Titan

Titan is the largest moon of Saturn. Its the only moon in the Solar System with a thick atmosphere. Titan has often been described as a planet-like moon, which makes it an interesting object for humans. But before colonizing Titan, we have to solve some problems.

Properties

Physical properties

Titan has a diameter of around 5 150 kilometres, which makes it larger than Mercury. Mercury is heavier than Titan, as Titan only weights about the twice the mass of the Moon. Gravity on Titan is only 14 % of that experienced on Earth, and about 85 % of that experienced on the Moon.

Exact composition of Titan isn’t known yet, but it has been suggested that it has a large core that consists mostly of silicates. On top of the core Titan has mantle, which consists of ice and possibly a huge liquid ocean. On top of the mantle Titan has a crust, which is mostly ice.

Orbit and rotation

Titan orbits around the Saturn in approximately 16 days. Like many other moons, Tidan is tidally locked to the planet, so the same side always faces Saturn. When looking from Titan, Saturn would be almost static in the sky. Titan spends most of the time inside the magnetic field of Saturn, protecting it from solar winds.

Geology

Geology of Titan isn’t that well known, because the strong atmosphere makes studying the geology harder. Therefore, exact measurements haven’t been yet made. Titan might have had or it still might have volcanic activity. The surface of Titan is quite flat, though there are some mountains that can be hundreds of meters high.

Besides Earth, Titan is the only object in the Solar Systems, where lakes have been located. Some of these lakes are so large, that they can even be called as seas. These seas and lakes consist of liquid hydrocarbons, such as ethane, methane and propane.

Atmosphere

Titan is the only known moon with a thick atmosphere. It is the only known object whose atmosphere consists mostly of nitrogen, besides Earth. The atmosphere also contains quite a lot of methane and hydrogen, with traces of other substances.

Atmospheric pressure at the surface of Titan is about one and a half times bigger than on the Earth. Because of the smaller gravity on Titan, the atmosphere reaches far from the surface. It is thought that methane on the upper atmosphere interacts with sunlight, creating the orange colour of the atmosphere.

There are some unwanted substances in the atmosphere, also. There are small amounts of cyanide, that is very dangerous to humans. It has been calculated, that the amounts would mostly just cause headaches, but this is something that should be considered if we’re going to colonize Titan.

Climate

Because of the large distance from the Sun, the temperatures on Titan are quite low. The average temperature on Titan is about -180 °C. There are multiple weather phenomena on Titan, such as clouds that cause methane rain. The phenomena are very similar and at the same time very different than the phenomena on the Earth.

Colonization

Transport

It takes about the same time to travel to Titan than it takes to travel to Saturn. With current technology, traveling takes a couple of years, but in the future the trip will probably be faster. Even though couple years can feel like a long time, its not impossible.

Habitats

The cold temperatures of Titan may cause problems. The habitats should be well insulated, which might not be possible with current technology. It could be possible to build habitats under the surface, where the temperatures might be higher and insulation wouldn’t be needed. Building an underground habitat would probably be more expensive and challenging.

The habitats should be very secluded from their surroundings. Many of the substances that can be found from the planet may explore when they come to contact with oxygen. Oxygen leak in the base might cause the whole base to be destroyed. Cyanide and methane, that can be found from the atmosphere are harmful to humans, cyanide even in small concentrations. Therefore, the habitats should be well separated from the environment around them.

Energy

Titan has a lot of energy resources that could be used. Solar power, however, is not very feasible option, because of the large distance from the Sun, and also because of the strong atmosphere of Titan. In the future, nuclear fusion reactors could be used on Titan, and the fuel for them could be brought from Saturn.

Alternatively, hydrocarbons found on Titan could be refined to be used as fuels. They could be used to manufacture rocket fuel, also. Because Titan has an atmosphere and fast winds, wind power could also be an option. When starting the habitats, wind power could be a very feasible option, if a fission nuclear reactor isn’t brought in with the settlers.

Communications

It takes about the same time to deliver messages to Titan, that to Saturn. When the distance is the shortest, messages will be delivered in a bit over one hour. At the longest distance, it takes over one and a half hours for the messages to be delivered. Therefore, real-time communication between the Earth and Titan isn’t possible, so colonizers should be able to solve problems without any external help.

Resources

Titan has multiple resources that are interesting to humans. There are a lot of hydrocarbons, that can be used to produce rocket fuel. Titan has water under the surface, which can be used to produce oxygen. There are also ammonia, which can be used to create fertilizers for the plants.

Titan could be used as a base station for harvesting the resources of Saturn, such as hydrogen and helium. Titan would also be a good place for a waypoint before entering the other objects farther in the Solar System.

One problem might be that Titan might not have metals that could be easily harvested. If there aren’t any on the surface of Titan, building a base could be challenging. Therefore, resources would have to be brought from somewhere else instead of mining them.

Terraforming

Titan is one of objects in our Solar System that could be terraformed in the future. Titan already has almost all the required elements for life. However, Titan is very far from the Sun, so we should figure out a method to heat it efficiently.

One suggestion is to warm the planet with mirrors. This would be extremely expensive, as the amount of solar light is very low, and mirrors would have to be very large. Therefore, using mirrors won’t probably be feasible. We could try to create an artificial greenhouse effect on Titan. However, strong greenhouse gases freeze at low temperatures. For example, sulfur hexafluoride freezes at the temperature of -60 °C. Therefore, Titan should be somehow warmed before bringing greenhouse gases in.

Even though we would be warm up the planet, we would probably meet additional problems. If Titan has a huge oceans under its surface, as it is thought, the moon would basically become one huge ocean. Therefore, we would have to build artificial continents and islands, but if the resources of Titan are limited, this can be challenging.

Summary

Titan is an interesting target because of its large hydrocarbon resources. It already has all the necessary elements for life, such as water. It wouldn’t be easy to colonize Titan, mostly because of the cold temperatures. Colonizing Titan could provide us with important resources and also allow us to efficiently harvest resources from Saturn.

Terraforming Titan could be possible in the future, but with current technology this is not possible. The cold temperatures are a problem, which makes it impossible with our current means. However, it is possible that in the future we will find a way to terraform Titan.