To Saturn and Beyond

This is Part 3 of a 3-part series on Project Saturn Wheel.

Nothing lasts forever, least of all pHacktory projects that are meant to blow open big, audacious ideas and inspire the public.

As Project Saturn Wheel has reached the end of the road, the team has some advice for would-be space explorers who want to take the idea further.

We can’t wait to see somebody take the team’s model and create a prototype craft that could sail upon the winds of Saturn. The makers of that model would need to consider some practical realities, including how to make the craft robust and powerful, but still lightweight.

The construction materials must be sturdy and durable enough to withstand Saturn’s stormy atmosphere and wayward ammonia crystals, but light enough to stay aloft in a layer of gas. Similarly, the craft will need a power source for the times when it can’t depend on the wind. However, fuel storage increases weight, and too much could drag the craft into Saturn’s gassy depths. A renewable energy source could help solve the dilemma. Solar power is impractical on Saturn, but some clever Earthling could devise a way to harvest fuel (such as hydrogen) out of the planet’s atmosphere.

This project also opens up exciting possibilities for anyone interested in artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning. An unmanned craft on a planet far away would need to identify and learn about its environment so that it could create its own roadmap, navigate safely and avoid storms without human intervention.

Furthermore, who says there needs to be only one craft? The Saturn Wheel team imagined a fleet of smaller crafts exploring the planet’s surface and reporting to a mother ship orbiting the planet — the kind of scenario that, if Saturn had a film industry, might have become a summer blockbuster starring Saturn’s version of Will Smith and Jeff Goldblum.

Finally, the Saturn Wheel team urges readers to think beyond the gas giant and imagine how the Saturn Wheel concept could be used right here on earth. For example, a Saturn Wheel-type craft could navigate ocean currents and enhance our knowledge of life here on our own planet. It could even make life better within your own home. Saturn Wheel’s combination of sensors and sails could help builders better understand the movement of air currents, allowing them to build better heat regulation systems and improving energy efficiency in homes and offices.

We’d love to hear your ideas (and we’d REALLY love to see you carry them out)! Tag @pHacktoryLabs on Twitter and tell us what you think.

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