Based on the observations of the Cassini-Huygens space exploration mission, Saturn’s moon Enceladus was found to be a very promising research object in the solar system for further exploration and follow-up research. In current models, Enceladus is believed to consist of a rocky core, surrounded by an ocean of liquid water and covered by a layer of ice. Near its South Pole, “plumes” (geysers consisting mostly of water vapor and small ice particles) with intermittent activity where observed at the surface. The suspected driving force of those plumes is only a hypothesis. The plumes spit out gas molecules and ice particles which escape the gravitational pull of Enceladus to nurture Saturn’s rings.
In a previous model of the plumes, it is assumed that the walls of the ice crevasses in the crust form natural nozzles that convectively accelerate the flow of the plumes to supersonic speeds.
This model will be taken up and confirmed by the MicroMoon project, since validation has not yet been successful.
If the model could be supported, it would hint to an unblocked connection between the subsurface ocean (as pressure reservoir) and the surface.
This then would make the plumes to very interesting candidates for further investigation to attain knowledge about Enceladus’ water and its conditions, as the plumes would be way easier to reach than the ocean itself.
An adjusted nozzle and an evaporation chamber connected to a hydraulic accumulator are the core elements of the setup. As basis for the experiment design the reservoir must ensure a constant evaporation rate within the chamber and minimize sloshing while the nozzle accelerates the water due to its narrowest cross section. A camera system provides the opportunity of an optical analysis while different pressure and temperature sensors cover the in- and outside of the setup. Their measurements are indicators for the success of our experiment.
The data will be processed by using the according fluid-dynamical laws which allow to conclude the actual stream velocity out of the thermodynamic conditions.
The development of the experiment is based on the guidelines of the REXUS program, which means that the “life cycle” of a “big” space tech project is run through. Thus, besides the scientific payload, the whole structure and periphery of the flow system have to be laid out. This includes engineering methods from the basic studies such as design of technical components according to guidelines and requirements, project/team management, as well as system integration, testing and verification procedures.
So far, all components have run through mechanical and thermal simulations and are mostly already manufactured.