NASA to send Dragonfly rotorcraft to explore Titan

NASA will be sending a drone-like spacecraft to explore Saturn's largest moon.

    2019/07/01

NSFW    WASHINGTON — NASA is sending a nuclear-powered drone to explore the unique and richly organic world of Titan.

NASA announced on Thursday that it will be sending a multi-rotor vehicle called Dragonfly on a mission to Titan, Saturn's largest moon.

Dragonfly will launch in 2026 and land on the satellite eight years later, in 2034.

The rotorcraft, which has eight rotors and flies like a drone, will spend at least two and a half years making two dozen short flights to explore Titan.

According to the New York Times, it will be equipped with a nuclear battery that is charged in between flights.

Part of the mission is to study whether Titan is or once was host to life. Its nitrogen-based atmosphere is similar to Earth's, albeit four times denser. Instead of water, lakes, rivers, and seas are filled with liquid methane.

While the surface is composed of rock-hard water ice, a liquid water reservoir exists beneath the crust.

Dragonfly will have cameras on board to stream images taken during flight. It will also carry scientific instruments including spectrometers to study the moon's composition, meteorology sensors, and seismometers.

Drills in the landing skids will take surface samples to be analyzed onboard.

Dragonfly is not the first spacecraft to touch down on Saturn's largest moon. Europe's Huygens probe landed on Titan in 2005, after travelling to the Saturn system with NASA's Cassini spacecraft.
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