Inspenet, December 5, 2023.
NASA’s Dragonfly mission team announced its progress to the next phase of development of its nuclear-powered drone, which has dimensions similar to those of a car and is designed to perform flights and landings on Titan, the moon of Saturn. Currently, the team will focus on the final stage of mission design and vehicle manufacturing, called Phase C.
Earlier this year, Dragonfly successfully passed its preliminary design review. Additionally, they have developed a new mission plan based on the funding levels present in the President’s fiscal year 2024 budget request. The revised date for launch preparation is July 2028, as it was initially scheduled to head to the aforementioned satellite in 2027.
Notably, NASA will officially evaluate the mission’s launch readiness date in mid-2024 during the Agency’s Program Management Council.
“The Dragonfly team has successfully overcome a series of technical and programmatic challenges in this daring effort to gather new science on Titan“said Nicola Fox, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate in Washington.”I am proud of this team and their ability to keep all aspects of the mission on track.“.
Dragonfly mission to explore Saturn’s moon
Dragonfly represents NASA’s only mission dedicated to exploring the complex chemistry present on Titan, with the goal of searching for signs of water or hydrocarbon-based life that may exist there. The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory will be responsible for building and operating the vehicle.
This drone will be equipped with cameras, sensors and sampling devices to investigate areas of the satellite where organic materials may have previously mixed with frozen water on the satellite’s icy surface.
The drone’s four twin rotors are anticipated to explore greater distances above Saturn’s surface than any other planetary vehicle. In addition, they will make landings in various regions of the planet to collect samples and thus determine the composition of surface materials in various geological conditions.
” Dragonfly is such a bold effort, like nothing that has been done before ,” APL’s Elizabeth “Zibi” Turtle, Dragonfly’s principal investigator, said in a statement. “I am inspired by the way our team has repeatedly overcome challenges by working together and thinking innovatively. We have shown that we are ready for the next steps on the path to Titan and we will continue to move forward with the same curiosity and creativity that has brought Dragonfly to this point.”.
The Dragonfly team has made significant technical advances. Various components of the drone, such as its guidance, navigation and control systems, have undergone successful tests in California deserts that reproduce the dunes of Titan.
Likewise, tests have been carried out in exclusive wind tunnels at NASA’s Langley Research Center. Additionally, a sizable lander model has been evaluated in the new 3,000 cubic foot Titan Chamber at APL, simulating the temperature and atmospheric pressure conditions of Titan’s methane-enriched environment.
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