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There’s an old saying we’ve all heard: Go big or go home.
NASA has decided to go really big and do it far away from home with their next mission, which will take place on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons, Futurism reports:
“As part of project Dragonfly, NASA is planning to send a small spacecraft to Saturn’s moon Titan, a moon with an extremely dense atmosphere.
“As its namesake suggests, the craft would release a microwave-sized rotorcraft — think of it as a tiny helicopter drone — to fly from location to location above the surface of Titan. It will cover up to 180 kilometers total over two years to see what its surface is made of and find out if it’s a good fit for human habitation.”
The space agency made the announcement of their Dragonfly mission on Twitter:
BIG NEWS: The next @NASASolarSystem mission is… #Dragonfly – a rotorcraft lander mission to Saturn’s largest moon Titan. This ocean world is the only moon in our solar system with a dense atmosphere & we’re so excited to see what Dragonfly discovers: https://t.co/whePqbuGBq pic.twitter.com/BQdMhSZfgP
— Jim Bridenstine (@JimBridenstine) June 27, 2019
Why Titan instead of another Saturn moon? Because Titan has an atmosphere which would seem to be favorable for harboring life, Mashable notes:
“Out of all the large moons, Titan is the only one with a dense atmosphere. It houses massive methane lakes and maverick disappearing islands. NASA considers Titan’s planet-like atmosphere analogous to Earth, which can enable complex molecules to form. Dragonfly will take a tour of the world filled with a variety of organic compounds, the building blocks of life. Titan is also the second largest moon of the solar system after Jupiter’s Ganymede.”
The mission to Titan is part of what NASA calls it’s New Frontiers program, and sadly it won’t begin until 2026, taking at least eight years to reach Titan:
“The total cost is being estimated as $850 million. NASA will aim to reach Titan in 2034. The mission is a part of the space agency’s New Frontiers program, which has the New Horizons mission to Pluto and the Juno mission to Jupiter for the future.”
NASA’s Thomas Zurbuchen explained why Titan is so unique:
“Titan is unlike any other place in the solar system, and Dragonfly is like no other mission. It’s remarkable to think of this rotorcraft flying miles and miles across the organic sand dunes of Saturn’s largest moon, exploring the processes that shape this extraordinary environment. Dragonfly will visit a world filled with a wide variety of organic compounds, which are the building blocks of life and could teach us about the origin of life itself.”
There are also proposals on the drawing board that could wind up being other ambitious future NASA programs, SpaceNews notes:
“Escape and Plasma Acceleration and Dynamics Explorers (EscaPADE), would be developed by the University of California Berkeley. It features two small satellites that would go to Mars to study how the planet’s atmosphere loses mass and interacts with the solar wind. Janus, by the University of Colorado and Lockheed Martin, would use a pair of smallsats, weighing about 40 kilograms each, to fly by binary asteroids. Lunar Trailblazer, by Caltech and the Jet Propulsion Laboratory, is a lunar orbiter to map water ice deposits using advanced infrared instruments.”
It certainly looks like NASA is indeed reaching out in our solar system, notably in an effort to determine if we’re really all alone in the galaxy.
Here’s more on the Dragonfly mission:
Featured Image Via JPL/NASA