The hazy skies of the Saturn’s moon Titan will be the next stop on the increasing list of destinations for flying drones exploring the solar system. This period, scientists will not merely hop but instead soar upwards of up to about 13,000 feet and explore hundreds of miles in quest of ancient microbial life. It’s a significant step forward from NASA’s Ingenuity drone’s success on Mars. It indicates that flying robots from the Earth will serve an increasingly essential role in our solar system’s exploration.
Alex Hayes, who works as an associate professor and head of the Cornell University’s Center for the Astrophysics and Planetary Science situated in Ithaca, New York, remarked, “Ingenuity was a technology demonstration.” “You may now anticipate follow-ons to broaden that technology to genuine flight-based science missions.” Hayes and his colleagues described the scientific objectives of the Titan mission, dubbed Dragonfly, in July. The Dragonfly probe is set to launch in 2027 and reach orbiting Saturn in 2034. Its major goals will be to explore chemical evidence of microbial existence on the moon and also to research the moon’s “methane cycle,” which is a much colder version of Earth’s water cycle.
Dragonfly has been in the works for almost a decade, essentially since the Cassini expedition to Saturn launched the Huygens lander on the surface of Titan in 2005. The dense atmosphere’s thick haze veils titan’s surface, but the Huygens mission provided tantalizing glimpses of its topography, including dunes, dry riverbeds, and liquid hydrocarbon lakes.
Unlike Mars, where a high gravity and thin atmosphere make flight difficult, Titan’s atmosphere is nearly 4 times denser than ours, albeit unbreathable, as well as its gravity, is slightly lower than that of our moon. “Titan is the easiest location to fly in the solar system,” said Jason Barnes, a professor and planetary scientist at the University of Idaho located in Moscow, Idaho, as well as one of Dragonfly mission’s primary investigators.
The Dragonfly lander, which weighs half-ton, will stay in one place for several days, conducting science studies while the radioisotope thermoelectric generator recharges its batteries before flying to a new location for an hour or more. Although Dragonfly will conduct most of its research on the surface, its 8 rotors will allow it to fly far higher and farther than Ingenuity during its early 32-month mission.
Barnes explained, “We truly think of ourselves as landers.” “Ninety-nine percent of the time is spent on the ground.” The Dragonfly mission’s scientific goals include sampling the floor of the Selk crater, which was formed thousands of years ago by the meteorite impact on Titan.