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NASA Announces New Dragonfly Drone Mission to Explore Titan (Johns Hopkins University)

The New York Times

July 1, 2019


NASA announced Thursday that it is sending a drone-style quadcopter to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

Dragonfly, as the mission is called, will be capable of soaring across the skies of Titan and landing intermittently to take scientific measurements, studying the world’s mysterious atmosphere and topography while searching for hints of life on the only world other than Earth in our solar system with standing liquid on its surface. The mission will be developed and led from the Applied Physics Laboratory at Johns Hopkins University in Laurel, Md.

“This revolutionary mission would have been unthinkable just a few years ago,” said Jim Bridenstine, the administrator of NASA, in a video statement announcing the mission.

The spacecraft is scheduled to launch in 2026. Once at Titan in 2034, Dragonfly will have a life span of at least two-and-a-half years, with a battery that will be recharged with a radioactive power source between flights. Cameras on Dragonfly will stream images during flight, offering people on Earth a bird’s-eye view of the Saturn moon.

“We will be flying initially over dunes and then into rugged terrain,” said Elizabeth Turtle, who will lead the mission for the lab as its principal investigator. “We will take images with both downward-looking cameras along the ground track underneath Dragonfly as we fly over the surface, as well as forward-looking cameras, so we’ll be able to look out toward the horizon as well.”