Dragonfly in flight over Titan. On Thursday, NASA announced its next middle-class mission to explore the Solar System, a Dragonfly aircraft flying like a dron over Titan's surface, Saturn's largest moon. Titan has a fascinating environment with a hydrocarbon atmosphere much deeper than the earth's atmosphere. NASA intends to spend several years researching the complex chemistry.
NASA scientists have decided between this Titan researcher and another mission to transfer to comet 67P / Churumov – Gerasimenko. The comet was previously visited by the European spacecraft Rosetta, which returns a sample of the commodity material to Earth.
From the two missions, Titan's researcher, with an unprecedented design that would fly a vehicle with a larger Mars moon, was at higher risk. But half a century after Apollo's moon landings, NASA decided to take it boldly. "The great nation is doing great things," said NASA Administrator Jim Brittenstein.
In 2004, a small spacecraft built by the European Space Agency separated from Cassini's probe into Saturn's system and descended through Titan's dense atmosphere. He survives only about 90 minutes on the surface, but returns to annoying information about the complexity of a cold, exotic world that nevertheless has familiar features like lakes and rivers filled with liquid methane.  has such great potential for fundamental science, "says Elizabeth Turtounka, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Physical Laboratory, the mission's chief investigator. Scientists believe that complex organic chemistry in the atmosphere of Titan and its surface may seem like Earth's chemistry before life develops. "Titan is just a perfect chemical lab for understanding pre-biotic chemistry," Turtle said.
The value is limited to $ 1 billion. This is the fourth mission in this middle class following the mission of the New Horizons Pluto, the spacecraft Juno now in Jupiter, and the mission OSIRIS-REx, which explores Bennu's asteroid. It is expected to begin in 2026 on board an unspecified rocket before reaching Titan in 2034
Once there, Dragonfly will land in the equatorial area of the Moon, which is covered with large sand dunes. The radioisotope thermoelectric generator will recharge a battery, which in turn will power the Dragonfly rotorcraft system for several dozen fields on Titan's surface for 2.5 years. Meanwhile, the Dragonfly will cover about 180 km, a significant part of the Moon, which is 5,149 km in diameter – about 1.5 times the Earth's moon.
While flying on a distant moon may sound ambitious, Turtle said it is far the most appropriate way to move to Titan. The atmosphere of the moon is about four times thicker than the Earth's atmosphere, and gravity is one-seventh of that on our planet. This means that the Dragonfly rotors should be able to fly with the vehicle with relative ease.
Prior to the announcement, scientists were excited about the scientific potential of Titan's mission, but they were worried that NASA could reject it because of the high risk. However, after the announcement, NASA chief Thomas Zurbjen said the agency is working with the Turtle and its team to reduce a number of serious risks and improve the chance of a mission of success.
measured risks, "Zurbuheen said, adding that the weight of Apollo's 50th anniversary was in his opinion. This is an agency that has done great things, and its science director wants to deal with this legacy.
"I wonder what it means to be part of an agency that has this great story," I said. One thing that seems to mean that NASA may have something to celebrate during the 65th anniversary of Apollo 11.
Offer image by John Hopkins APL