Published: Sun, June 30, 2019
Sci-tech | By Patricia Wade

Forget Mars, NASA considering sending a helicopter to one of Saturn's moons

Forget Mars, NASA considering sending a helicopter to one of Saturn's moons

Its prime target is Titan, Saturn's moon, which is also said to have similarities with our planet.

On Thursday, NASA has announced that it will be sending a lander, dubbed Dragonfly, to fly over the surface of Titan and spend a couple of years studying it. The eight-rotor drone will be launched to the Saturnian moon in 2026 and touch base in 2034.

It will take advantage of Titan's thick atmosphere to fly to different sites of interest. Because it's an aerial drone and not a rover, Dragonfly will be able to venture to these locations rather quickly, providing a wealth of information and many observations over a shorter period of time. "And then they drift down out of the atmosphere to the surface nearly like a light snow", says Curt Niebur, lead program scientist for NASA's New Frontiers Program.

"This mission would have been unimaginable just a few years ago (...) NASA once again does what no one else can", said special agency administrator Jim Bridenstine, in a statement.

It is the only celestial body besides our planet known to have liquid rivers, lakes and seas on its surface.

"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 Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for Science at the NASA's Headquarters in Washington. It 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.

Brilliant Babar Azam on path to greatness
Pakistan defeated New Zealand by six wickets at the ICC World Cup Cricket, securing its journey to the semifinals. After Hafeez's departure, Haris Sohail played a highly mature innings to offer good support to Babar.

During its 2.7-year mission, Dragonfly will also investigate the moon's atmospheric and surface properties, as well as its subsurface ocean. Actually, its atmosphere is four times denser than Earth and it rains liquid methane and other organic compounds onto the moon's surface.

"What really excites me about this mission is that Titan has all of the key ingredients needed for life", said Dr Lori Glaze, the director of planetary science at Nasa. It will collect samples at these points, and then make its way to the Selk impact crater, where there is evidence of a possible "primordial stew" of liquid water, organic materials, and energy.

Titan is about 886 million miles (1.4 billion kilometres) from the Sun, with surface temperatures of around -290 degrees Fahrenheit (-179 degrees Celsius) and surface pressure about 50 per cent higher than Earth.

The spacecraft will carry with it multiple scientific instruments that will enable it to measure soil samples and to search for signs of past or existing life on Titan.

The lander could eventually fly more than 175km (108 miles) - almost double the distance travelled to date by all Mars rovers combined.

"Titan is such an incredible, complex destination", said Elizabeth Turtle, who will lead the mission for the lab as its principal investigator.

Like this: