NASA's Dragonfly and the Future of Helicopters for Low-Cost Space Exploration

NASA is testing the Dragonfly spacecraft, which will explore one of Saturn's moons

Finally a dream Explore a distant world in depth It will become a reality after the American Space Agency (a pot), you will confirm the Dragonfly mission titan, Saturn's largest moon.

This mission will now make history Dragonfly ship (Dragonfly in English), helicopter – a drone the size of a small car, It will be released in 2028 It will reach the surface of Titan in 2034.

he Helicopter, equipped with eight propellers and flies like a drone, It will be NASA's first science vehicle to fly past another planetary body. The robot will explore from the sand dunes to the floor of the crater, where scientists hope to find liquid water and other organic materials This could provide clues about the origin of life that may have existed on that celestial body tens of thousands of years ago.

Artistic concept of a dragonfly flying over the sand dunes of Saturn's moon Titan. (a pot)

The device will fly Dozens of places on the natural moon of the gas giant Saturn, Rich in methane and possibly organic matter, it looks for chemical processes common to both Titan and early Earth before life evolved.

The Dragonfly was designed and built under the supervision of the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland. Who manages the NASA mission. From now on, the mission team has four years to finalize the spacecraft's final design, build it, and test its scientific instruments.

The announcement was made last month by NASA's Associate Administrator for Science Mission Directorate, Nikki Fox, who emphasized: “Dragonfly is an amazing science mission of broad interest from the community.” Exploring Titan will push the limits of what we can do with extraterrestrial helicopters. “

Titan is larger than the planet Mercury and is the second largest moon in our solar system. (a pot)

The mission passed all initial design review criteria At the end of last year. But experts had to develop an updated budget and timeline to adapt to the current funding environment.

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Dragonfly was initially scheduled to launch in 2026, but was delayed by two years due to budget constraints and additional costs caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

$3.35 billion that the mission costs today It reflects a cost increase of about double what was initially proposed. Following this selection, NASA had to order replanning of the project several times due to funding constraints in fiscal years 2020 through 2022. To compensate for the delay in arriving at Titan, NASA also provided additional funding for a heavy spacecraft to shorten the cruise phase of the mission.

Illustration of the Dragonfly mission concept for entry, landing, landing, surface operations, and flight on Titan. (a pot)

a team dragonfly It has made important technical advances, including:

  • Evolution of guidance systems testing
  • Tests of navigation and control of dragonflies in California's deserts that resemble Titan's dunes
  • Multiple flight system tests in unique wind tunnels at NASA's Langley Research Center.
  • Operating a large-scale instrumented lander model using simulated atmospheric temperature and pressure in the Applied Physics Laboratory's new 1,000-cubic-meter Titan chamber.
Titan, Saturn's largest moon, is also in the eyes of scientists (NASA)

According to NASA experts, Titan is an analogue of early Earth, and may provide clues about how life originated on our planet.

Titan is larger than the planet Mercury and is the second largest moon in our solar system. while It orbits the planet Saturn, and is about 1,400 million kilometers away from us (886 million miles) from the Sun, which is about 10 times farther than Earth.

Because it is so far from the sun, its surface temperature is about (-179 degrees Celsius). Its surface pressure is 50% greater than the Earth's pressure.

NASA's Dragonfly mission, which will send a transportable lander to Titan in the mid-2030s and will pioneer exploration of its surface (NASA)

The Moon has a nitrogen-based atmosphere like Earth. But it makes a difference to our planet: it has methane clouds and rain.

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Other organic materials form in the atmosphere and fall as light snow. Climatic and surface processes on the Moon have combined complex organic compounds, energy, and water similar to those that may have sparked life on our planet.

during In its 2.7-year primary mission, Dragonfly will explore diverse environments Keys to life that have been around for tens of thousands of years. “Their instruments will study how far prebiotic chemistry might have advanced. They will also investigate the Moon’s atmospheric and surface properties, its oceanic sediments, and underground fluids. In addition, the instruments will search for chemical evidence of past or existing life.”

Radar pierces Titan's thick veil of smog, revealing lakes and a large sea in the north polar region, captured by the Cassini spacecraft. In Ligia Mare, temporary bright spots, “magic islands”, have been seen appearing and disappearing. (a pot)

He added that Dragonfly has been leveraging data for 13 years Cassini To choose a period of calm weather for landing, along with a safe initial landing site and scientifically interesting targets. First you will land in spheres tropical dunes of shangrila, Which are ground-wise similar to the linear sand dunes of Namibia in South Africa and provide a diverse sampling site.

The helicopter will explore this area Short trips, and then you will make a series of long trips of up to 8 kmstopping along the way to sample fascinating regions with diverse geography.

Finally, you'll reach Silk Crater, where there is evidence of liquid water, organic matter (complex molecules containing carbon, along with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen) and energy, which together make up the recipe for life.

Flat projection of the view of the Huygens probe upon its arrival at Titan in January 2005, from an altitude of 10 km. (a pot)

The lander will eventually fly more than 175 kilometers (108 miles), nearly twice the distance traveled so far by all Mars rovers combined.

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Dragonfly is a bold effort the likes of which have never been done before“, He said elizabeth “Zibby” Turtle APL, Master Detective Dragonfly.

“I am inspired by the way our team repeatedly overcomes challenges, works together and thinks innovatively. We have shown that we are ready for the next steps on the Road to Titan and will continue to move forward with the same curiosity and creativity that has brought Dragonfly to this point,” he said.

“Titan is unlike anywhere else in the solar system, and… Dragonfly is unlike any other missionThomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for science at NASA at the agency's headquarters in Washington, added.

The helicopter has 8 propellers and can fly like a drone (NASA)

“It's amazing to think of this helicopter flying miles and miles across the organic sand dunes of Saturn's largest moon, exploring the processes that shape this extraordinary environment. Dragonfly will visit a world filled with a wide variety of organic compounds, What is it The basic components of life And they can teach us about the origin of life itself.

Dragonfly was selected by NASA as part of the agency's New Frontiers program. Which includes the task new Horizons to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, Juno To Jupiter and Osiris Rex To the asteroid Bennu. The program is managed by the Planetary Missions Program Office at NASA's Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, for the agency's Planetary Science Division in Washington.

“he The New Frontiers Program has transformed our understanding of the solar system. “Revealing the internal structure and composition of Jupiter's turbulent atmosphere, revealing the icy secrets of Pluto's landscape, uncovering mysterious objects in the Kuiper Belt, and exploring a near-Earth asteroid to explore the building blocks of life,” Laurie Glaze said. Director of NASA's Planetary Science Division.

“Now we can add “Titan is on the list of mysterious worlds that NASA will explore”The expert confirmed.

Lovell Loxley

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