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TitanAir: Leading-Edge Liquid Collection to Enable Cutting-Edge Science

Quinn Morley
Planet Enterprises

Artist’s depiction of TitanAir: Leading-Edge Liquid Collection to Enable Cutting-Edge Science
Quinn Morley

TitanAir is a unique next-decade mission concept which aims to unlock the secrets of Titan’s atmosphere, lakes, and shorelines. By merging foundational physics principles, like capillary action, with state-of-the-art technology like inflatable structures and soft robotics, this high-risk, high-reward project goes beyond aircraft design. As a Space Technology Mission Directorate (STMD) technology development project, our core focus is on developing a liquid ingestion system for aircraft which may one day fly on other planets.

Anyone who has ever flown on a rainy day is familiar with the way raindrops dance on the windows of an airplane in flight. In fact, boundary layer effects mean that even when flying at 500 miles an hour, liquid slides over the skin of an airplane at a leisurely pace. What if the wing (or fuselage) of the airplane could “drink” in this rainwater and analyze it with science instruments? Now, what if that rain was made of methane, and from another planet?

With our goal of analyzing Titan’s methane rain, TitanAir is poised to pioneer groundbreaking scientific investigations into Titan’s atmosphere, lakes, and shorelines, potentially reshaping our understanding of this complex planet. Titan’s atmosphere is a mesmerizing blend of complexities, and central to its mysteries are aerosols, the source of Titan’s distinctive haze and the nuclei for its clouds and raindrops. Born from intricate chemical reactions, these aerosols are made of complex organic material synthesized in the upper atmosphere, and they play a crucial role in Titan’s methane cycle. As this unique rain falls on the highest hills, it may carry organic material into the depths of the lakes and seas. However, it is Titan’s rich shorelines which may be the most intriguing. These uninvestigated areas could be reservoirs of wet organic-rich sediments, existing at the boundary of the methane-filled lakes and the organic-laden landscape.

TitanAir embodies the audacious spirit of the NIAC program, and has the potential to push the boundaries of planetary science forward. If our technology is found to be feasible, it could revolutionize the way we study Titan, Venus, and even Earth. With a dedicated investigative team and a mission driven by innovation, TitanAir stands at the forefront of planetary science technology development. To follow the progress of this project, visit

2023 Phase I Selection