NASA May Send a Drone to Titan in 2025

  • NASA May Send a Drone to Titan in 2025

NASA May Send a Drone to Titan in 2025

NASA is set to announce the finalists for their future unmanned mission as part of the New Frontiers program set to launch in mid-2020's to explore areas of the solar system of high-interest to us on December 20 at a media teleconference at 2 p.m. EST. Previous New Frontiers missions include the New Horizons mission to Pluto, the Juno spacecraft now orbiting Jupiter, and the OSIRIS-REx spacecraft now en route to sample an asteroid.

The Dragonfly mission would launch a drone-type rotorcraft toward smog-covered Titan in 2025, with arrival set for 2034.

The two missions NASA selected address two of the biggest questions now facing planetary scientists: how did the solar system form, and could the ocean worlds of the solar system support life? "These are tantalizing investigations that seek to answer some of the biggest questions in our solar system today".

Squyres noted that past studies have confirmed comets contain water as well as organic compounds that could serve as life's building blocks.

An illustration of the Dragonfly lander on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan. "We're excited to continue with the mission concept".

The other mission selected for further study is known as Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return, or CAESAR. Rosetta's mapping of the comet, as well as the lessons learned from Philae's unsuccessful landing attempt, make it an attractive target for scientists and engineers eager to try again. The mission would grab a sample from the nucleus of Churyumov-Gerasimenko, with the hope of learning about how those materials contributed to the early Earth, including the origins of our oceans and life. Squyres, a planetary scientist at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, is also the lead investigator for NASA's long-lived Opportunity Mars rover (although he says he plans to step down from that role if CAESAR is selected for flight).

Origins, Spectral Interpretation, Resource Identification, Security-Regolith Explorer (OSIRIS-REx): Launched in 2016, this is the first US mission to bring asteroid samples back to earth.

Enceladus Life Signatures and Habitability: The ELSAH team will receive support to develop cost-effective techniques that limit spacecraft contamination and enable life detection measurements. The second, called Venus In situ Composition Investigations, is aimed at improving an instrument needed to study rocks in the harsh conditions of Venus.

Here's a first glimpse at what the "Dragonfly" mission to Titan might look like.

The two proposed missions were chosen as finalists from a list of 12. Each team will receive a prize to help them give their idea structure and gear up towards the 2019 announcement of the winning mission to be launched by end of 2025 (tentative). Their balance of cost and capability occupies a highly prized sweet spot between NASA's less-expensive, higher-cadence "Discovery" program, and its typically multibillion-dollar, once-per-decade "Flagship" missions.

You may recognize the current missions in the New Frontiers program, since they're some of NASA's most interesting projects-New Horizons, the spacecraft that flew by Pluto and is now approaching a mysterious Kuiper Belt object; Juno, which is taking the best photographs we've ever seen of Jupiter; and OSIRIS-REx, which is en route to retrieve a tiny piece of an asteroid.