Published: Fri, June 28, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

NASA Aims to Send a Drone to Saturn’s Moon Titan

NASA Aims to Send a Drone to Saturn’s Moon Titan

NASA has chosen to commit up to $850 million to creating an interplanetary probe unlike any seen before: a rotor-equipped spacecraft that will fly through the smoggy atmosphere of Titan, Saturn's biggest moon. Because Titan's atmosphere is four times denser than on Earth, this will be the first time a NASA vehicle is able to fly its full science payload to different destinations of the celestial body.

He added: "Dragonfly will be the first drone lander with the capability to fly over 100 miles through Titan's thick atmosphere".

Titan has all of the ingredients for life - and the Dragonfly mission could find proof of aliens on the distant world, said Nasa scientist Lori Glaze.

Like those missions, Dragonfly is expected to expand our view of distant objects in the solar system - in this case, Saturn's moon Titan, whose freakish chemistry and thick atmosphere have intrigued scientists for years. Observations from Cassini and Huygens confirmed that chilly Titan held rivers and lakes of liquid methane and ethane, and that methane fell like rain on the icy terrain.

Dragonfly, which has eight rotors and flies like a large drone, will explore a range of environments on Titan.

The mission won't launch until 2026. "This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but we're now ready for Dragonfly's fantastic flight".

"Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe", NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine said.

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"The instruments on board will help us investigate organic chemistry, evaluate habitability and search for chemical signatures of past or even present life".

"It's remarkable to think of this rotorcraft flying miles and miles across the organic sand dunes of Saturn's largest moon, exploring the processes that shape this extraordinary environment", said Zurbuchen.

[Dragonfly] will first land at the equatorial "Shangri-La" dune fields, which are terrestrially similar to the linear dunes in Namibia in southern Africa and offer a diverse sampling location. It will examine dozens of locations across the moon, collecting samples and measurements of organic surface materials. The mission is part of the agency's New Frontiers program, which includes the New Horizons mission to Pluto (and beyond) and the Juno mission to Jupiter.

But Titan also boasts temperatures below -290 degrees Fahrenheit and pressures that could suffocate a human's lungs.

The newly announced Dragonfly mission will be developed and led by Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in the U.S. state of Maryland. The program is managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASAs Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agencys Planetary Science Division in Washington.

We're going to Titan, and we're going in style.

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