FEB 25, 2018 5:28 PM PST

'Dragonfly' Quadcopter Mission Could Study Titan's Habitability

WRITTEN BY: Anthony Bouchard

Out of the dozens of moons that orbit Saturn, Titan is perhaps one of the most interesting. Not only is it the largest of them all, but planetary scientists seem confident that it could foster habitable conditions.

Given Titan’s unique environmental circumstances, it shouldn’t come as any surprise that NASA wants to study it more closely. Fortunately, a mission concept code-named ‘Dragonfly’ could bring humankind closer to achieving this goal in the near future.

An artist's impression of the Dragonfly quadcopter vehicle as it descends from Titan's atmosphere.

Image Credit: Steve Gribben/Johns Hopkins APL

Assuming planetary scientists are right about Titan, it could harbor a dense atmosphere tantamount to Earth’s. That said, we should be able to send a drone-like quadcopter to Titan, where it can fly around and collect vital information for scientific analysis.

Related: Cassini spots methane clouds on Titan

Typical quadcopters are both small and light, enabling them to fight Earth’s gravitational pull with the help of its own atmospheric density. A quadcopter built for the Dragonfly mission, on the other hand, would be large and heavy. It would take full advantage of Titan’s low gravity and high atmospheric density to take flight.

So why an aerial drone rather than a land-crawling rover? The scientists involved with the project say that it would help scientists overcome various restrictions that come with land-based travel, including longevity, mobility, and range, just to name a few.

“There’s something very ‘simple’ about having a little drone flying around Titan,” explained Catherine Neish, an Earth Sciences professor and planetary geologist involved with the Dragonfly mission’s development.

“It’s clever in a way that people weren’t expecting and, I think, it’s audacious and exciting –­ and realistic.”

Related: Could humans survive on Enceladus or Titan?

The Dragonfly quadcopter would sport precision rotors that would make it highly maneuverable, along with numerous sensors that would monitor the moon’s environment for signs of habitability or possible traces of life.

On the other hand, Titan’s distance from the Sun nixes solar power from the list of viable energy sources for Dragonfly’s onboard tech. Instead, it would have to rely on plutonium-powered generators just like the Mars Curiosity rover. This would provide the vehicle with up to two years of runtime.

It should be interesting to see whether such a concept ever materializes and what it might find when it gets there. But for now, all we can do is continue making educated guesses with the limited data we have about Titan and its mysterious characteristics.

Source: University of Western Ontario

About the Author
Fascinated by scientific discoveries and media, Anthony found his way here at LabRoots, where he would be able to dabble in the two. Anthony is a technology junkie that has vast experience in computer systems and automobile mechanics, as opposite as those sound.
You May Also Like
JAN 26, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Exoplanet Detection Methods: The Science and Missions
JAN 26, 2022
Exoplanet Detection Methods: The Science and Missions
The discovery of new exoplanets (aka planets that orbit stars outside of our solar system) are becoming a common regular ...
FEB 11, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Mars: A History of Wonder
FEB 11, 2022
Mars: A History of Wonder
Mars, the fourth planet from our Sun. The Red Planet. From time immemorial, we have gazed at it in wonder and dreamed ab ...
MAR 07, 2022
Space & Astronomy
The Making of the Milky Way Galaxy
MAR 07, 2022
The Making of the Milky Way Galaxy
In a recent study published in Monthly Notices of the Royal Astronomical Society astronomers analyzed the light from ind ...
APR 03, 2022
Space & Astronomy
Saturn - The Ringed Planet
APR 03, 2022
Saturn - The Ringed Planet
Saturn, the sixth planet from the Sun – The Ringed Planet, as curious, young sky watchers might often ask, “ ...
APR 07, 2022
Chemistry & Physics
Potential Gas Giant Exoplanet Spotted in Formation
APR 07, 2022
Potential Gas Giant Exoplanet Spotted in Formation
The youngest exoplanet ever imaged may contradict a widely accepted theory of how gas giants form. Discovered by a team ...
APR 14, 2022
Space & Astronomy
NASA's Perseverance Rover Hears the Sounds of Mars
APR 14, 2022
NASA's Perseverance Rover Hears the Sounds of Mars
Who doesn’t like to zap things, even if only imaginary? Nearly everyone at some point in their life has yelled, &l ...
Loading Comments...