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Dragonfly: NASA's Autonomous Rotorcraft to Explore Titan

company logo for NASA NASA

Country: United States of America

Year: 2019


NASA's Dragonfly mission: An ambitious venture using a high-tech, rotorcraft lander designed to study Titan, Saturn's largest moon.

Status: Prototype, In development, Research

Operation: Autonomous

Robot Type / Domain: Research, Space

Tasks: Explore chemistry and habitability of Titan (Saturn's largest moon)

Whimsical Intro (by addoobot)

Imagine a dragonfly supersized for space travel — that's NASA's Dragonfly on Titan, gliding gracefully and studying secrets of Saturn’s enigmatic moon with the ease of a pond-skimmer back home.

Major Events or News

  • In April 2024, NASA confirmed the Dragonfly mission to Titan, allowing the project to move forward with its final design, construction, and comprehensive testing of the spacecraft and its scientific instruments.
  • The Dragonfly mission successfully met all the necessary technical standards during its Preliminary Design Review (PDR) in early 2023, ensuring compliance with NASA's rigorous requirements for spacecraft design, mission planning, and risk management.

More Videos

Play video background image - video 1
The Science of NASA's Dragonfly
Play video background image - video 2
Introducing Dragonfly, NASA's next new frontier mission
Play video background image - video 3
Testing of Dragonfly in unique NASA facilities

Learn More

An Exciting Journey to Saturn's Moon, Titan

Flying through the skies of a far-off world with alien terrains to study habitability and chemical processes - this is what NASA’s adventurous project 'Dragonfly' is all about! 

More specifically, Dragonfly, a super-cool nuclear-powered drone that is as big as a compact car, is scheduled to touch down on Titan (Saturn's biggest moon) in 2034. The launch date is set to be July 2028.

It's the first time NASA will use a rotorcraft for science beyond our planet, marking a significant leap in space exploration technologies.

Why Pick Titan for Dragonfly? A Moon with Mysteries

The interesting aspect of Titan is that it has the right conditions for flying; that is, it has a thick atmosphere and gentle gravity. But there is more to this moon than just air and space. It may be harboring complex yet intriguing chemicals and could be concealing an ocean under its icy shell. Who knows, it might have had liquid water in the past. 

These fascinating features make Titan a place to explore, especially for traces of prebiotic chemistry which could give us hints about the building blocks that precede life. 

Dragonfly's Mission: A High-Flying Laboratory

The Dragonfly rotorcraft, with its four pairs of coaxial rotors (eight rotors in total), will be capable of autonomously traversing various notable locations across Titan's landscape. At each location, it will study the ground below and the atmosphere around it. It will use various sensors and cameras as well as other technologies to carry out these tasks.

Thus, Dragonfly is not just a rotorcraft, it is a flying laboratory. It has an onboard laboratory which it uses to analyze tiny samples that have been collected through drilling into Titan's surface. This high-tech onboard laboratory called the attic, houses sophisticated instruments. 

An instrument inside the attic is the DraMS, which can irradiate samples with lasers or vaporize them to sniff out their chemical makeup. Another instrument is a mass spectrometer, which Dragonfly can use to identify the molecular components and their masses. This could shed light on organic molecules found on Titan, helping us crack the code of life’s cosmic recipe.

Testing and Facilities for the Dragonfly

Prior to its ambitious mission to Titan, Dragonfly has been and continues to be extensively tested in specialized wind tunnels. More specifically, engineers have used a 14-by-22-foot Subsonic Tunnel and a 16-foot Transonic Dynamics Tunnel (TDT) to validate the aerodynamics of the rotorcraft. This testing was done by using Earth-based drones equipped with Dragonfly's flight systems and heavy gases simulating Titan's dense atmosphere. 

These tests are carried out to thoroughly assess everything from rotor dynamics to structural integrity, under conditions that closely mimic those on Titan. The purpose of these tests is to ensure that the Dragonfly can handle its extraterrestrial tasks with the precision required for groundbreaking scientific discoveries.

Brief History

The groundbreaking mission of Dragonfly rotorcraft was announced by NASA in June 2019. Its aim is to study Titan's complex organic chemistry and potential prebiotic conditions somewhat resembling those of early Earth. 

Due to funding challenges and the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, Dragonfly has undergone several budget adjustments and scheduling revisions. The launch has now been rescheduled for July 2028, with a total lifecycle cost of $3.35 billion.

The project is managed and built by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL). 

Technical Specifications

• 4 pairs of rotors (8 total)

• Each pair: 2 rotors in coaxial configuration

• Over 12 feet long from nose to tail

Weight: 450 kg

Weight: 992.080 lbs

Max. Altitude: 4000 m

Max. Altitude: 13123.360 ft

Max. Horizontal Speed: 10 m/s

Max. Horizontal Speed: 32.808 ft/s

Flying Type: Drone, UAV, Rotorcraft

No more specs to show.

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Comment by addoobot - Our Perspective

This is an ambitious mission, but then again, it's NASA we're talking about. This mission goes beyond mere exploration: it aims to characterize habitability and study the chemical processes on Titan. Such research could profoundly enhance our understanding of other worlds and even our own planet's history.

addoorable score:
If you're a fan of the elegant dragonfly, you might find this rotorcraft quite 'addoorable.' But is it the insect-like design that catches your eye, or something else about it? Let us know how 'addoorable' you find it!

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