NASA has announced its next destination in our solar system. In a bid to advance further in their search for possible signs of life, NASA’s $ 1 billion quadcopter – Dragonfly rotorcraft will fly to Saturn’s icy moon Titan, to sample and examine sites. Dragonfly is scheduled to launch in 2027 and will fly to a number of favourable locations, searching for prebiotic chemical processes which are very common on both Titan and our planet Earth.
The mission will mark a milestone in history as it will be the first time NASA will fly a multi-rotor (eight rotors) vehicle on another planet for scientific purposes. The dragonfly will, in the literal sense, fly like one, resembling a large drone.
The rotorcraft will use Titan’s dense atmosphere to its advantage, which is said to be about four times denser than the Earth’s, to become the first ever vehicle to fly its science payload to new places for repeated and targeted access to materials on the surface of the natural satellite.
Titan is believed to be an analog to the early Earth and may provide researchers with clues as to how life began on Earth. The rotorcraft will further explore different kinds of environments, from organic dunes to floors of impact craters where liquid water and other complex organic substances may have existed thousands of years ago.
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Dragonfly’s instruments will study how far probiotic chemistry has progressed on Titan and will investigate its atmosphere alongside other surface properties, such as subsurface oceans or any other liquid reservoirs. Additionally, the rotorcraft will also look for chemical evidence of past or existing life on the celestial body.
“With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will once again do what no one else can do,” said 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.” This rotorcraft has 13 years’ worth of data from Cassini that can help choose a period of calm weather to land on the Saturn moon along with a safe initial landing site with targets that may be of scientific interest.
Watch: Dragonfly: NASA’s New Mission to Explore Saturn’s Moon Titan
“Titan is unlike any other place in the solar system, and Dragonfly is like no other mission,” said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA’s associate administrator for Science at the agency’s Headquarters in Washington. “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. Dragonfly will visit a world filled with a wide variety of organic compounds, which are the building blocks of life and could teach us about the origin of life itself,” he added.
Although Titan has a nitrogen-based atmosphere like Earth, it has clouds and rain of methane which is not a phenomenon that occurs on Earth. While other organics on Titan may be formed in the atmosphere and fall like what resembles snow, it’s weather and surface processes have combined complex organics, energy and water similar to those which may have sparked life on Earth.
Dragonfly was a part of the agency’s New Frontiers program which included New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, Juno to Jupiter and OSIRIS-REx to the asteroid Bennu, according to NASA.
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