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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.

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The Mission

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.

Mission Facts

No earlier than 2028

Titan Arrival

Principal Investigator
Elizabeth (Zibi) Turtle, Johns Hopkins APL

Project Manager
Rick Fitzgerald, Johns Hopkins APL

Project Scientist
Scott Murchie, Johns Hopkins APL

Dragonfly vehicle
An interactive, 3D rendering of the Dragonfly spacecraft. Click on the image and drag to see all angles of the spacecraft.

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