This autonomous drone that runs on nuclear energy will travel to Saturn

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To make trips to space and perform space explorations you need the highest technology. Portentos so exceptional that they go out of the norm, of the classic autonomous drone that we usually see in specialized media in technology. We talked about, for example, the new NASA drone that will travel to the moons of Saturn It works with nuclear energy.

We introduce you to Dragonfly, NASA's new device whose mission is to orbit Titan, one of Saturn's moons. At first glance it looks like an incredibly advanced drone; It is absolutely autonomous, is powered by nuclear energy and it is "small", about the size of a compact car.

However, and to the surprise of many, according to Elizabeth Turtle, the principal investigator of the mission at the Johns Hopkins Laboratory of Applied Physics, this new probe does not have "a lot of new technology".

Dragonfly, the autonomous drone powered by nuclear energy

In this video from NASA you can see Dragonfly in action. The truth is that Turtle is right, because although the specifications of this drone are absolutely incredible, what gives life to its technology is not new at all.

For example, its quadcopter condition is the same as we have seen in drones such as the X8 Octocopters, available in Amazon. Autonomous driving, although it is still something to be established, is already in our society (Tesla can give a good account of it). And although nuclear energy is its greatest novelty, it will use the same propulsion system that gave life to Mars Curiosity.


NASA's Cassini space probe used infrared light to look through Titan's hazy atmosphere and take approximate measurements of its surface.

NASA / JPL / University of Arizona

However, having technology known to all does not mean that its passage through the surface of Titan, moon of Saturn, is not absolute madness. According to Doug Adams, the mission's spacecraft system engineer:

"Almost everyone who is exposed to Dragonfly has a similar thought process. The first time you see it, you think, 'You must be kidding, that's crazy.' But eventually, you realize that this is a highly executable mission. ".

Titan is the main cause of Dragonfly's mission being so important. For Shannon MacKenzie, a postdoc on the mission, there is no destination that can be bigger than Titan. Not for nothing it is the largest moon of Saturn, and it is full of dunes, ravines, rivers, lakes and even mountains. The lakes are the most dangerous part of the satellite, since they are filled with liquid methane, not water. MacKenzie describes it like this:

"It's the complete pack. It's this really unique place in the solar system where all these different processes come together in a very similar way to Earth." It is their similarity (saving distances) with Earth that has made Titan a NASA target. What the team wants after the mission, according to Turtle, is "Collect the results of those experiments to understand the same kind of steps that were taken here on Earth towards life."

Dragonfly will launch from Earth in the year 2026, and will reach Titan in the year 2034. Incredibly, Dragonfly will have it easier to fly inside Titan than inside Earth according to Peter Bedini, Dragonfly project manager:

"The conditions on Titan make it easier to fly there than on Earth."



Johns Hopkins APL

Once Dragonfly enters Titan's atmosphere, it will fall from the back of the capsule that transported it and fly to a set of sandy dunes on the surface. From there, he will make a series of "jumps" for two years, sampling the terrain and sending data and photos.

Although not everything will be sewing and singing. Due to the distance between Titan and Earth, the drone signal takes an hour and a half to reach Earth, So your control on our planet is unfeasible. That is why Dragonfly is autonomous, although it will be improved; They plan to adapt all kinds of hardware and software such as radars or motors.

But how will this autonomous drone move on Titan? It has no GPS, so Dragonfly will have to manage alone: will map the terrain and, regardless of the redundancy, create your own map with which it will be guided by the satellite.

The team behind Dragonfly, for now, is limiting itself to working with drones on Earth to build both hardware and software systems that can adapt to NASA's drone. They have time until launch in 2026, says Turtle. It is fascinating to think that we are a few years away from discovering the secrets of one of the most interesting satellites in our solar system.

Via | NPR

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