NASA has announced a plan to explore the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
The space agency made the announcement in a media teleconference Thursday afternoon, detailing its vision of a robotic rotorcraft dubbed Dragonfly that will collect samples and measure soil composition in search for signs of habitability.
The enormous, icy moon is said to be the most Earth-like world in the solar system, and previous findings by the Cassini mission suggest it holds some of the ingredients necessary for the emergence of life.
Dragonfly will launch in 2026 as part of NASA’s New Frontiers program, and is expected to arrive at Titan in 2034
‘Dragonfly is a bold, game-changing way to explore the solar system,’ said APL Director Ralph Semmel.
‘This mission is a visionary combination of creativity and technical risk-taking that will help us unravel some of the most critical mysteries of the universe — including, possibly, the keys to our origins.’
Initially, Dragonfly will carry out a 2.7-year mission to explore different sites across Titan, including dunes and impact craters.
Observations from the Cassini mission indicate these areas once held liquid water and complex organic materials.
The dual quadcopter will sample these organic surface materials and measure their composition in effort to characterize the large moon’s habitability.
Dragonfly will first touchdown in an equatorial area known as the ‘Shangri-La’ dune fields, which have been compared to the Namibian dunes in southern Africa.
It will then complete ‘leapfrog’ flights of around 5 miles (8km) each to hop to other areas, stopping to take samples from each site.