A Taste of Titan

Dragonfly Team Debuts Johns Hopkins APL’s Newest Environmental Test Chamber

The Titan Chamber — the largest environmental simulator ever deployed on the campus of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland — is open for business.

The team developing NASA’s Dragonfly mission recently took the chamber for an opening run with a full-scale thermal model of its nuclear-powered car-sized drone, which it will send to Saturn’s moon Titan later this decade. In late October, while attached to a 12-by-12-foot platform inside the approximately 3,000-cubic-foot chamber, the model of the rotorcraft lander’s main structure endured the frigid temperatures and approached the atmospheric pressure of Titan’s methane-rich environment.

“The Dragonfly mission poses extreme engineering challenges,” said APL’s Diarny Fernandes, assembly lead of the Dragonfly thermal development test model. “We need to design a vehicle to operate in ambient temperatures of minus 180 degrees Celsius, in an atmosphere four times denser than Earth’s. We have smaller test chambers at APL that fully simulate the Titan environment, but we can only use them to evaluate the performance of components such as electronics boxes and mechanisms. Now, with the Titan Chamber, we can perform environmental testing at scale.”