Science

NASA plans to send a drone to Saturn's largest moon

NASA plans to send a drone to Saturn's largest moon”

"Dragonfly is a Mars rover-sized drone that will be able to fly from place to place on Titan", said Elizabeth Turtle, the lead investigator of Dragonfly mission. The goal is to send the nuclear-powered drone to investigate dozens of locations across Titan, which scientists have long theorized may harbor an environment to sustain organic life.

The mission consists of a lander who gets the name Dragonfly.

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.

"Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe", NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. First, the Cassini spacecraft managed to capture the dust storms happening across the surface of this largest of Saturn's moons and just a few days ago, we were told that Titan's lakes might actually be surrounded by crystals. Its instruments will study how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed.

Dragonfly will gradually venture from dune fields to a large crater so scientists can take measurements at different spots, analyzing the moon's surface and atmosphere. NASA officials said the spacecraft will be created to touch down on multiple locations like impact craters and dunes, to look for the building blocks of life.

Utilizing 13 years' of the Cassini spacecraft's data on Titan, the Dragonfly rotorcraft-lander will reportedly take "advantage of Titan's dense atmosphere and low gravity" and conduct a series of short flights around the Saturn moon to collect relevant samples.

It will then move on to the Selk impact crater, where NASA said "there is evidence of past liquid water, organics - the complex molecules that contain carbon, combined with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen - and energy, which together make up the recipe for life". In total, the rotorcraft will fly more than 108 miles, or almost double the distance of what NASA's land-based rovers on Mars have traveled. On Titan, however, these are made of liquid methane instead of water. Other organics are formed in the atmosphere and fall like light snow. Among its missions will be to explore the moon's organic surface materials to test the habitability of its environment.

Titan is larger than Mercury, the planet that's closest to the sun in our solar system. However, the machine will have to endure the icy world's minus 290 Fahrenheit temperatures and methane-based rain.

Dragonfly was selected as the next mission in Nasa's New Frontiers programme of medium-class planetary science missions.

"Now we can add Titan to the list of enigmatic worlds NASA will explore".

This will be the first time NASA will fly a multi-rotor vehicle on another world.



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