NASA has set a tentative launch date of July 2028 for the Dragonfly mission, which aims to explore Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, citing budget uncertainty as a reason for delaying the project by one year.
The Dragonfly team can now move forward with the next stage of development — Phase C — of a nuclear-powered, car-sized drone that will fly over and land on the sands of Titan, a world that planetary scientists believe is rich in organic molecules. .
“The Dragonfly team has overcome a number of technical and programming challenges in this bold endeavor to gather new science about… Titan“, Associate Administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Nicola Fox He said in a statement. “I am proud of this team and its ability to keep all aspects of the mission moving forward.”
Related: Strange winds blow on Saturn’s moon Titan. New evidence could solve this decades-long mystery
At a meeting of NASA’s Exoplanet Assessment Group (OPAG) on November 28, the director of the agency’s planetary science division, Lori Glaze, revealed the reason for delaying the launch – which was originally scheduled to head to Titan in 2027. She said that official confirmation of it had been postponed. Dragonfly and the official cost and timeline for the mission were decided by NASA’s Program Management Council (APMC) due to uncertainty about how much money would be available for the project.
“Due to these incredibly large uncertainties in FY 2024 and FY 2025 funding and budgets, the decision was made at APMC to postpone formal confirmation,” Glaze said at the meeting.
She added that Dragonfly will be returned to APMC in the spring of 2024 following NASA’s fiscal year 2025 budget proposal.
The team will re-plan the mission upon request, and when any necessary restructuring has been completed and reviewed, NASA The official launch readiness date for the mission will be evaluated in mid-2024. This means that some elements of the final design and manufacturing of the Dragonfly mission will be delayed while others continue.
So far, Dragonfly is the only NASA mission scheduled to visit the surface of an ocean moon. Once on Titan, the drone will search for conditions that might indicate habitability. Dragonfly will also investigate how advanced any potential prebiotic chemistry is on the Moon’s surface Saturn And even looking for signs of water or hydrocarbon-based life already there.
In addition to traveling through more alien worlds than any other planetary rovers, the four-bladed rotors will also land on Saturn’s surface in different regions, collecting samples to determine the composition of surface materials under different geological conditions.
Investigating Titan is a top priority for planetary scientists because, in addition to being an ocean world, it is the only one Solar System The Moon is known to have a thick atmosphere Land– It is similar to the hydrological cycle of methane clouds, rain and liquids that flow across its surface and fill lakes and seas. This, and the possibility of the presence of abundant complex organic materials frozen in it the moonIts icy surface enhances the possibility of habitation on Titan.
The Dragonfly, which will be built and operated by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, was created to conduct this investigation using the cameras, sensors and samplers it is equipped with.
“Dragonfly is a bold, never-before-seen endeavor,” said Elizabeth Turtle, Dragonfly’s principal investigator. “I was inspired by the way our team repeatedly overcame challenges by working together and thinking outside the box.”
Many of the Dragonfly’s components, including its control and navigation systems, have already been tested over California deserts — chosen for their similarity to sand dunes on Titan — as well as in wind tunnels at NASA’s Langley Research Center. A full-scale model has also been tested in the massive Titan chamber at Johns Hopkins APL – which simulates the frigid temperatures and atmospheric pressures of Titan’s methane-rich environment.
“We have proven that we are ready for the next steps on the road to Titan, and we will continue to move forward with the same curiosity and creativity that has brought Dragonfly to this point,” Turtle concluded.