What followed was 10 weeks of remote team discussion sessions and webinars on science formulation, engineering, cost, management, and proposal strategy of a mission, all on top of his regular responsibilities as a graduate student. The team reviewed current priority questions in planetary science and decided to study Titan, a so-called “prebiotic chemistry factory” for its thick atmosphere, abundant hydrocarbons, and subsurface liquid water oceans that resemble early Earth.
NASA's Cassini spacecraft studied Saturn and Titan from 1997 to 2017, providing details of the moon’s structure. Radzom’s team proposed that their higher-precision instruments and solar-powered design could tackle unanswered questions about the moon’s curious environment and its potential to host life.
The team initially developed dozens of questions to explore about Titan, but quickly learned to switch from a mentality of unlimited scientific curiosity to one of resource-constrained mission design. “We had to whittle it down, week by week: which ones are the least risky, which ones are the most attainable?” said Radzom.
For the 11th week of the program, the team met in-person at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California, and hit the ground running. “The first day of the [in-person] program we got an email back [...] that basically confirmed that our current instrument wasn’t going to work, so we needed a new one,” remembered Radzom.