NASA scientists have recently released more details about "Dragonfly", a small drone that is expected to be sent into space bound for Saturn. However, this time, the purpose of the mission will not be to study the "Lord of the Rings" of the Solar System, but rather Titan, the largest of the 62 known moons orbiting the gaseous planet.
At 80% more mass than our Moon – and 50% larger – Titan, which is larger than Mercury, holds the title of Saturn's largest natural satellite, consisting of the second largest of the entire Solar System, losing by size only for Jupiter's Ganymede.
But Titan is not just huge! It also has low gravity, is the only moon in our planetary system with a dense atmosphere and the only star in our comic neighborhood where scientists have found evidence of stable lakes and oceans on its surface, composed of methane and ethane in their liquid forms. .
And why do we mention all these characteristics? Because, in addition to making Titan an obvious destination for space exploration, the fact that its atmosphere is very dense and rich in nitrogen and its gravitational force is low makes flying and maneuvering a ship there much easier than in other destinations here from the Solar System.
By the way, if all goes well and the drone reaches the satellite (which is over 1 billion kilometers away from us!), The truth is that Titan offers better flight conditions than Earth, since the air is about 4 times denser than here and the surface pressure is around 50% lower.
However, despite these “facilities”, it is not an easy task to design a device to travel to the satellite, since if something goes wrong, we do not have to send a mechanic there.
But let us talk more about the drone! Dragonfly – which means dragonfly – consists of an octocopter that, during the mission, must fly from one point to another through the Vertical Take-Off and Landing (VTLO) vertical take-off and landing system.
In addition, the device will be able to reach speeds of approximately 35 km / h, fly to altitudes of 4,000 meters and withstand temperatures up to – 180 ° C, as well as remain functional if one of its motors or rotors is lost.
To stay in operation, as Titan is far from the Sun and receives the equivalent of 1% of the solar energy that the surface of our planet receives, the drone will be equipped with a combination of batteries and a radioisotope thermoelectric generator – which will be the charge the batteries overnight so that the device can fly the next day.
Just curiously, 1 night on the satellite lasts about 8 earth days, so the little generator will have time to work.
Also because of the distance between Earth and Titan, it is not feasible for the drone to be remotely controlled by “earthling” researchers – due to the delays that would be generated – so Dragonfly will need to fly autonomously.
And what will be the drone's mission anyway? The equipment should perform all types of surveys, such as monitoring the moon's weather conditions, studying its seismology and collecting and analyzing samples, and for this, it will be equipped with panoramic and microscopic cameras, meteorological sensors, a mass spectrometer, a ray range and one of neutrons.
Yes, all in a single drone – and, considering the agility of these devices, Dragonfly will be able to study much more of Titan's surface and in a much shorter time than the explorers ever sent to Mars were able to do on their Planet missions. Red, for example.
Ultimately, what NASA people really want is to explore the oceans and lakes of the moon, the composition of which resembles what existed on Earth's water bodies in their early days, and to try to find out if they harbor some form of life or provide conditions for them. she comes up someday.
Dragonfly is due to depart on its trip in 2026 and reach its destination in 2034, so we will have to wait a few more years for investigations to begin. But even if the drone finds no organism on the satellite, the device will surely provide us with many interesting discoveries.