Exploring Saturn’s Moon Titan
Building off the discoveries of the NASA-ESA Cassini-Huygens mission, Dragonfly is a NASA mission that will explore Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Led by Principal Investigator Elizabeth Turtle of APL, this revolutionary rotorcraft-lander expedition will study the atmosphere, carbon-based chemistry and geology of this cold yet Earthlike moon and ultimately advance our understanding of life’s chemical origins.
Saturn's moon Titan is an unusual, double-ocean world: It has a liquid water ocean beneath its surface and a dense atmosphere that supports a methane cycle similar to Earth’s water cycle, with clouds, rain and rivers that flow into lakes, seas and potentially underground reservoirs. The abundant, complex, carbon-rich material on Titan’s surface and the past presence of liquid water at the surface make this moon an ideal destination for studying how far organic synthesis can progress in an environment that provides the ingredients necessary for life as we know it.
Selected in June 2019 as NASA's next New Frontiers mission, and currently in development, Dragonfly takes a revolutionary approach to planetary exploration -- using a rotorcraft to fly between diverse locations, landing and sampling materials at more than two-dozen sites across Titan’s surface.
Spacecraft and Instruments
APL will design, build and operate the Dragonfly rotorcraft-lander. With eight rotors, Dragonfly will take advantage of Titan’s dense atmosphere and low gravity to fly between locations -- traveling up to 110 miles (175 kilometers), farther than any planetary surface mission.
Dragonfly will be equipped with a sampling system that uses drills to collect and feed surface materials to a mass spectrometer, which will identify their chemical compositions, especially those relevant to biological processes. A gamma-ray and neutron spectrometer will be able to remotely detect chemical elements in the subsurface immediately beneath the lander. Dragonfly will also carry a suite of meteorological sensors to measure atmospheric temperature, pressure, humidity and wind speed; a seismometer to detect potential “Titan-quakes;” and a set of cameras that will capture sweeping panoramic views surrounding each landing site, microscopic images at sand-grain scale and aerial images as Dragonfly flies from place to place.
Elizabeth (Zibi) Turtle, Johns Hopkins APL
Rick Fitzgerald, Johns Hopkins APL
Scott Murchie, Johns Hopkins APL