Published: Sun, June 30, 2019
Sci-tech | By Jackie Newman

In Search For Life, NASA Will Fly A Drone To Titan

In Search For Life, NASA Will Fly A Drone To Titan

The US space agency NASA plans to send a probe to Saturn's largest moon, Titan, to search for the origins of life.

The dense, calm atmosphere (four times denser than that of Earth) of Titan and the low gravity of the moon will make for ideal flying conditions.

Scientists have long considered Titan an attractive place to study whether it would be capable of supporting microbial life.Titan's landscape is dominated by "sand dunes" and "waterways" composed of hydrocarbons - liquid methane and ethane.

Now Dragonfly will allow a more thorough investigation of Titan, including sampling surface material to identify its chemical components, determining surface composition, monitoring the atmosphere, characterizing geological features, and performing seismic studies.

Dragonfly doesn't have wheels so it will mostly be used in an aerial capacity and will fly around Titan for more than two years.

The rotorcraft will hop on the moon's surface in a series of leapfrog flights of up to eight km in order to take samples in diversified locations.

Dragonfly is part of NASA's New Frontiers program, which is responsible for the New Horizons mission to Pluto, the Juno mission now studying Jupiter and OSIRIS-REx, which is orbiting asteroid Bennu and planning to return samples back to Earth.

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"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.

Dragonfly should be able to measure the progression to determine if life is beginning to form and, if so, how far along it is.

Titan is an analog to the very early Earth, and can provide clues to how life may have arisen on our planet.

The mission, named Dragonfly, will explore the mysterious world using pioneering drone technology. They also will investigate the moon's atmospheric and surface properties and its subsurface ocean and liquid reservoirs. The mission is being led by Elizabeth Turtle of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory.

Lockheed Martin's (NYSE: LMT) space segment, Malin Space Science Systems, Honeybee Robotics, Penn State University, and the Japanese aerospace exploration agency will support the Dragonfly mission.

Titan, like Earth, has a nitrogen-based atmosphere.

The interplanetary technology Nasa is deploying to reach Titan, perhaps as soon as 2034, is an offshoot of modern drone technology.

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