NASA’s next mission is to bring the Dragonfly rotorcraft-lander to Saturn’s moon Titan. What does the agency hope to learn from exploring the unique world?
NASA’s Next Mission
On June 27, NASA announced that the destination for its next mission will be Saturn’s moon, Titan, with the Dragonfly set to launch in 2026 and expected to land on Titan by 2034. Once there, the Dragonfly rotorcraft will fly to various locations to look for prebiotic processes that Titan may have in common with Earth.
The mission is expected to advance the search for the building blocks of life as the Dragonfly explores the moon and studies its atmosphere, surface composition, subsurface ocean, and liquid reservoirs.
“With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will once again do what no one else can do. Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe,” said NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine.
This mission is the first time that NASA will fly a multi-rotor on another planet. Dragonfly has eight rotors and flies like a drone and will explore various environments on Titan during its 2.7-year mission.
It will first explore the “Shangri-La” dune fields in short flights while also taking samples along the way until it reaches the Selk crater where there is evidence of past liquid water, energy, and organics. In total, the Dragonfly will fly 108 miles, which is nearly double the distance traveled by all the Mars rovers combined so far.
Titan is Saturn’s largest moon and, of the over 150 known moons in our solar system, is the only one with a substantial atmosphere. It is over 842,000,000 miles from the Earth and is the only other place in the solar system that is known to have liquid lakes, rivers, and seas on its surface.
It is the second largest moon in our solar system, being even bigger than the planet Mercury, and the air in it is actually rather similar to Earth’s in that it is mostly nitrogen. In fact, one can even take a stroll on the planet without a space suit, albeit with an oxygen mask as well as protection from the intense cold.
Saturn’s Titan is considered to be one of the most hospitable worlds in our solar system. The exploration of it is a part of NASA’s New Frontiers program, which also includes explorations of Pluto, the Kuiper Belt, Jupiter, and asteroid Bennu.