‘Dragonfly’ drone could explore Saturn moon Titan

A relocatable lander could explore the hazy skies of Saturn’s intriguing moon Titan, according a new mission proposal. As the eight-bladed whirlybird travels across the moon, it could investigate some of the most promising potentially habitable sites on the Saturn satellite, where methane and ethane fall from the sky and flow as rivers and lakes.

The lander-size instrument, known as Dragonfly, would take advantage of Titan’s low gravity and thick atmosphere to visit multiple sites over several years, moving from one promising site to the next and recharging between the brief flights.

“It’s such a rich place to be able to explore in situ, and then it hands us the way to explore it,” the project’s principal investigator, Elizabeth Turtle, told Space.com. Turtle, a planetary scientist at the Johns Hopkins Applied Research Laboratory in Maryland, is leading the team that’s proposing an in-depth exploration of Titan as part of NASA’s New Frontiers mission program, which generally funds midsize missions to explore the solar system. She presented the Dragonfly concept last month at the Lunar and Planetary Sciences Conference in The Woodlands, Texas. [Amazing Photos of Titan: Saturn’s Biggest Moon]

On Titan, flowing methane and ethane rivers and seas provide a unique opportunity to explore the chemistry that could lead to the rise of life . But it’s the thick atmosphere that would make the mission possible.

“The atmosphere is what is giving us this ability to travel on Titan ,” Turtle said.

“Just waiting for us”

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