NASA will be delaying the launch of the Dragonfly mission to a tentative 2027 launch date, citing “external factors” such as the global coronavirus pandemic.
In an announcement from the space agency, the decision is “based on factors external to the Dragonfly project team,” which includes the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on the budget of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.
“NASA has the utmost confidence in the Dragonfly team to deliver a successful mission that conducts compelling science,” said Lori Glaze, Planetary Science Division director at the NASA Headquarters in Washington.
“Dragonfly will significantly increase our understanding of this richly organic world and help answer key astrobiology questions in our search to understand the processes that supported the development of life on Earth,” Glaze added.
Dragonfly is a NASA mission, originally set for 2026, that will send a robotic rotorcraft to the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. It is set to study prebiotic chemistry and better understand the possibility of Titan supporting life.
Among other bodies in the Solar System, Titan is notable for having abundant carbon-rich chemistry on its surface, together with the presence of water and ice, as well as an interior ocean. Also, its atmosphere is a lot more dense – about four times – compared to Earth’s own atmosphere.
It was first proposed back in 2017 as a part of the NASA New Frontiers program, submitted by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory. Among twelve submitted proposals, it emerged as one of the two finalists and by June 2019, it was selected as the fourth New Frontiers project.
Melissa Trainer, from NASA Goddard Space Flight Center, serves as one of the deputy principal investigators. The team is led by Johns Hopkins APL’s Elizabeth Turtle, based in Laurel, Maryland.
Among the specialized instruments to be included in the Dragonfly is a mass spectrometer, or DraMS, to control the sampling system based on the Sample Analysis at Mars (SAM) that was installed on the Curiosity rover. Another instrument will be the Dragonfly Gamma-Ray and Neutron Spectrometer, or DraGNS. It will be used to study the chemical composition of the ground without the need for taking samples.
Dragonfly will be the first NASA mission to fly a multirotor vehicle on another planetary body. With Titan’s dense atmosphere, the robotic vehicle will fly all its payloads to different locations in the moon’s surface through VTOL – vertical takeoffs and landings – to move around Titan. In its multiple site surveys, it will aim to characterize the environment and offer insight into its own progression of prebiotic chemistry.
In the initial projections, the mission is expected to launch in 2026 and reach Titan by 2034. While it will be moved from its original 2026 schedule, NASA assures that there will be no changes to the Dragonfly mission architecture, as well as in its capabilities once it arrives on Titan.
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NASA, Dragonfly, Titan, Natural satellite, Unmanned aerial vehicle, Moons of Saturn
World news – THAT – NASA Pushes the Dragonfly Back Another Year Due to “External” Factors