Environment Life

Dragonfly rotorcraft given green light for mission to Titan

  • April 19, 2024
  • 2 min read
Dragonfly rotorcraft given green light for mission to Titan

NASA has greenlit a nuclear-powered Dragonfly rotorcraft to explore Saturn’s largest moon. Set to launch in the 2028 interplanetary mission following years of delay, the planned aircraft will explore Titan to learn more about the unique satellite.

Titan is located around 746 million miles away, making it one of the most challenging bodies in the solar system to study. But it is so unique that it has attracted scientists despite. Not only is it Saturn’s largest moon but it is among the largest moon in the entire solar system, among the few withany sort of atmosphere. Only Jupiter’s Ganymede is larger, while Jupiter’s Io and Neptune’s Triton are the only moons known to have an atmosphere.

On top of that, consisting mostly of nitrogen, it has significant amounts of methane, and there is evidence that there could be an ocean of liquid water inside the moon, something that is also believed to be the case in Europa, another of Jupiter’s moons. Wherever you find water on earth, you find life.

But exploring such a place is a challenge. One simple lander has already penetrated its atmosphere but a more ambitious mission will be to have something more mobile. On both our own moon and Mars, this is easy as they only need wheeled rovers to explore them. However, Titan’s swamp-like atmosphere consisting of petroleum byproducts makes that difficult.  

A different approach is needed and Dragonfly appears to pass the test. Its ability to hop from one place to another allows it to explore the boggy terrain and shores of the moon. It is also designed to conduct a general geological survey as well as to study the organic chemistry of  Titan, and hopefully search for biosignatures. While Titan is not seen as the best candidate for life, it is considered to contain the ‘primordial soup’ that scientists believe allowed life to form on Earth.

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