July 9, 2019 12:05 AM NPT
NASA is sending a dual-quadcopter drone to explore the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Named Dragonfly, the mission will search for hints of life on a world similar to primordial Earth. Titan, the only other world in our solar system with standing liquid (methane) on its surface, provides a rare opportunity to explore the chemical processes that could have sparked life on Earth. The eight-rotor drone will be launched to the Saturnian moon in 2026 and will arrive in 2034. Dragonfly will land at the "Shangri-La" dune fields, which are similar to the linear dunes found in Namibia, before reaching the Selk impact crater, where liquid water and organic materials vital for life once existed together.
The craft will be fitted with a range of scientific instruments designed to detect complex organics and biosignatures. It will be able to measure seismic activity, perhaps offering insight into the ocean beneath the moon’s surface. Dragonfly will eventually fly more than 175km – nearly double the distance traveled to date by all Mars rovers combined. In 2005, the European Space Agency’s
Huygens probe became the first spacecraft to land on Titan, revealing a world similar to a primordial Earth.