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NASA selects flying mission to study Titan for origins and signs of life

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Christian Fernsby ▼ | June 29, 2019
NASA Titan
World   NASA Titan

NASA has announced that next destination in the solar system is the unique, richly organic world Titan.

Advancing search for the building blocks of life, the Dragonfly mission will fly multiple sorties to sample and examine sites around Saturn's icy moon.

This illustration shows NASA’s Dragonfly rotorcraft-lander approaching a site on Saturn’s exotic moon, Titan.

Taking advantage of Titan’s dense atmosphere and low gravity, Dragonfly will explore dozens of locations across the icy world, sampling and measuring the compositions of Titan's organic surface materials to characterize the habitability of Titan’s environment and investigate the progression of prebiotic chemistry.

Dragonfly will launch in 2026 and arrive in 2034.

The rotorcraft will fly to dozens of promising locations on Titan looking for prebiotic chemical processes common on both Titan and Earth.

Dragonfly marks the first time NASA will fly a multi-rotor vehicle for science on another planet; it has eight rotors and flies like a large drone.

It will take advantage of Titan's dense atmosphere four times denser than Earth's to become the first vehicle ever to fly its entire science payload to new places for repeatable and targeted access to surface materials.

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

During its 2.7-year baseline mission, Dragonfly will explore diverse environments from organic dunes to the floor of an impact crater where liquid water and complex organic materials key to life once existed together for possibly tens of thousands of years.

Its instruments will study how far prebiotic chemistry may have progressed.

They also will investigate the moon's atmospheric and surface properties and its subsurface ocean and liquid reservoirs.

Additionally, instruments will search for chemical evidence of past or extant life.

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