Titan is the 2nd largest moon in our solar system after Ganymede, one of Jupiter's moons. It is located about 1.4 billion kilometers away from the Sun and its surface experiences temperatures of around -180°C.
The "Dragonfly" UAV will examine the ground of Titan and will retrieve samples. The drone that will search for any kind of prebiotic chemical processes (an indication of life) in Titan will be powered by nuclear energy. Titan has similar conditions with earth before 4 billion years ago. “It’s a place that is at once completely alien and totally familiar because we have these very different materials from what we're familiar with here on Earth undergoing the same processes,” Elizabeth Turtle, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), stated. However, Titan's atmosphere is 4 times denser that Earth's, a fact that was considered in the drone's design.
Titan's terrain consists of sand dunes (similar to those in Namibia) and channels of liquid methane and ethane. Beneath its surface, that is composed of ice, there is liquid water and some scientists believe that alien life could be hosted there.
The purpose of Dragonfly's journey is to reveal how life began on our planet and discover new insights in search of live throughout the universe. “With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will once again do what no one else can do. Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe. This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but we’re now ready for Dragonfly’s amazing flight,” Jim Bridenstine, NASA Administrator, stated.
Dragonfly will be the first multi-copter (with 8 rotors) utilized for exploration on another planet. The mission will begin in 2026 and will arrive in 2034. The advanced vehicle will travel about 175 kilometers performing short flights up to 8 kilometers and will take samples from many areas. Its final destination is the Selk impact crater, a place where organics and liquid water are believed to exist. “We know Titan has all of the ingredients necessary for life. How far does chemistry get in an environment that has all of the ingredients sitting there? Titan has been doing chemistry experiments for hundreds of millions, if not billions, of years. And what we want to do is go pick up the results of those experiments,” Prof. Turtle said.