NASA to send drone-like rotorcraft to Saturn’s largest moon Titan
NASA is aiming to send a drone-like rotorcraft to Saturn's giant moon, Titan, to closely examine and determine the potential habitability of its environment. Slated for launch in 2027, Dragonfly will begin its journey of discovery when it arrives on the Titanian surface in 2034.
Titan, the second largest moon in our solar system, has many similarities to Earth; it has a subsurface ocean of liquid water, methane lakes and rivers on the surface and clouds and rain of methane. This makes it an ideal destination to study prebiotic chemical processes and the potential habitability of its environment.
Additionally, Titan's thick atmosphere makes it possible for a Dragonfly-like vehicle with the aerial capability to fly.
Using a suite of onboard science instruments, the rotorcraft will explore dozens of locations across the icy world over the course of a 2.7-year (32-month) to accomplish its goals. They include the Dragonfly Mass Spectrometer (DraMS) to scan through measurements of samples from the moon's surface material for evidence of prebiotic chemistry; a gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer, and a suite of geophysical and meteorological sensors (DraGMet), including a seismometer to detect Titanquakes and understand the moon’s interior and liquid subsurface ocean.
"We want to know if the type of chemistry that could be important for early pre-biochemical systems on Earth is taking place on Titan," says Dr Melissa Trainer of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Greenbelt, Maryland, who is one of the Dragonfly mission’s deputy principal investigators.
Targeting a Titan🚀Saturn’s largest moon is the target for Dragonfly, due to launch in 2027. The mission will help scientists hone in on Titan's chemistry, and may shed light on the chemical steps that led to the formation of life on Earth. Learn more: https://t.co/o6UdsVenci pic.twitter.com/D0Ih3M8Q1t— NASA Ames (@NASAAmes) March 21, 2023
The Dragonfly mission is part of NASA's New Frontiers program, which also includes the New Horizons, Juno, and OSIRIS-REx missions.