NASA's gonna send a vint-wing aircraft to Titan

NASA's gonna send a vint-wing aircraft to Titan

Recently, researchers used data from the Cassini and Guygens spacecraft to determine the landing site of the Dragonfly mission, which is expected to land on Titan in the mid-2030s, and the team describes a dry landscape with dunes and a huge impact crater.

Titan, the largest satellite of Saturn, has an amazing resemblance to the early Earth. Like our planet, it is surrounded by a dense atmosphere consisting mainly of nitrogen. Like Earth, there are stable fluids on the surface, not water, but lakes and rivers of hydrocarbons, mostly methane and liquid ethane.

Titan is of interest to the scientific community, as its surface may be affected by prebiotic chemistry processes similar to those that occurred on Earth several billion years ago, and some also suggest extraterrestrial life forms based on reactions between hydrogen and complex hydrocarbons resulting from Titan's photochemistry.

In an effort to determine whether life can exist on its surface, NASA is developing a mission called Dragonfly.

The Agency will not send a rover, but a gyroplane similar to that of Ingenuity, which is still active on planet Mars, but in a larger version. While there, the drone will study the global cycle of methane and how the atmosphere interacts with surface materials. Another goal will be to find chemical biomagnifications that may indicate the presence of past or present life.

The mission is still scheduled for 2027, with expected arrival in 2034.

Dry, dune-covered region

We know Dragonfly should land in the Equator region of Titan, called Shangri-la, near Crater Selk.

This in-depth study included a detailed analysis of the radar images taken by the Kassini probe, which, in particular, examined how the radar signals were changed and reflected at different angles, the researchers were able to assess the surface characteristics. Since the resolution of the Cassini images was only about 300 metres per pixel, the team also relied on data collected by the European Huygens probe. The team landed south of this potential landing site in 2014, transmitting the data during the descent.

According to the analysis, Dragonfly will land in an environment likely to be covered with sand dunes and iced land.", says Lea Bonnfua of Cornell University and the lead author of the study.

We also know that the drone will explore this environment quite widely. It will stay in every place for a full day before leaving for other places. Since the atmosphere of Titan is four times denser than the Earth's, and gravity is seven times weaker, each of these flights should allow it to travel about 15 kilometres.

Finally, Dragonfly will complete his mission at Crater Selk. This crater, which probably contains traces of water mixed with organic matter, is of particular interest to the mission leaders.