Nasa has delayed the launch of its Dragonfly rotorcraft by 12 months. Citing budget pressures caused by the coronavirus pandemic, the agency’s planetary science division will now target 2027 to launch the mission to Titan, Saturn’s mysterious moon.
Titan is unique because it is the only moon in the solar system to possess a dense atmosphere. Its nitrogen-rich atmosphere contains clouds of methane, which can fall as rain or even snow.
Other organic molecules in its atmosphere have led researchers to think Titan may resemble the Earth billions of years ago, before life began. Dragonfly is designed to investigate Titan to perhaps shed light on the origin of life on Earth.
It will land in the equatorial dune fields of the moon, known as the Shangri-La region. Using its eight rotor blades, it will then fly to dozens of locations over 2.7 years, covering a distance of more than 109 miles (175km) – nearly double the distance travelled by all the Mars rovers combined.
Dragonfly was selected for implementation in June 2019. At the time, the launch was scheduled for 2026, which meant arrival in 2034. It is now expected to arrive in 2036.
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World news – US – Nasa’s Dragonfly mission to Saturn’s Titan moon delayed