NASA drone to explore Saturn moon Titan

July 01, 2019 //By Rich Pell
NASA drone to explore Saturn moon Titan
The National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) has announced a dual-quadcopter lander that will explore Titan, the biggest of Saturn's known moons and the second largest moon in our solar system.

Called Dragonfly, the Mars rover-size, drone-like vehicle will launch in 2026 and arrive in 2034. The vehicle, which has eight rotors and flies like a large drone, marks the first time NASA will fly a multi-rotor vehicle for science on another planet. It will be powered by a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG).

Dragonfly will be designed to fly multiple sorties around Saturn’s icy moon, sampling and measuring the compositions of organic surface materials to characterize the habitability of Titan's environment and investigate the progression of prebiotic chemistry. It will take advantage of Titan's dense atmosphere - four times denser than that of Earth - to become the first vehicle ever to fly its entire science payload to new places for repeatable and targeted access to surface materials, says the agency.

“With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will once again do what no one else can do,” says NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine. "Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe. This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but we're now ready for Dragonfly’s amazing flight."

Titan, says the agency, is an analog to the very early Earth, and can provide clues to how life may have arisen on Earth. Like Earth, Titan has a nitrogen-based atmosphere; unlike Earth, it has clouds and rain of methane. Other organics are formed in the atmosphere and fall like light snow. The moon's weather and surface processes have combined complex organics, energy, and water similar to those that may have sparked life on Earth.

During its 2.7-year baseline mission, Dragonfly will explore diverse environments from organic dunes to the floor of an impact crater where liquid water and complex organic materials once existed together for possibly tens of thousands of years. Its instruments will study how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed, and will also investigate the moon's atmospheric and surface properties


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