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Dragonfly

NSSDCA ID: DRAGONFLY
COSPAR ID: 

Description

Dragonfly is a rotorcraft mission to explore Saturn's moon Titan by making flights to various sites separated by tens of kilometers and making measurements over a period of more than two years. The primary goal is to explore the chemistry and habitability of multiple surface sites covering a large area. The science objectives of Dragonfly are to: sample materials and analyze chemical components and processes at work to produce biologically relevant compounds; measure atmospheric conditions; identify methane reservoirs and determine transport rates; characterize geologic features, transport processes, seismic activity, and subsurface structure; constrain processes that mix organics with past surface liquid water or potentially the subsurface ocean; and search for water- or hydrocarbon-based chemical biosignatures.

Dragonfly is a quadcopter drone with a nominal mass of 400 to 450 kg and will be roughly the size of the largest Mars rovers. It flies using 8 rotors, attached as four pairs to outriggers mounted on the side of the body. The craft can fly at about 10 m/s, and reach altitudes of 4000 m. Two landing skids protrude from the bottom of the craft. Power (nominally 70 W) is supplied by a radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG) mounted in a cylinder on the back of the drone, stored in rechargeable batteries. Dragonfly will have the ability to fly for approximately half an hour and cover distances up roughly 10 km on a single (8-day) battery charge. Each skid is equipped with a sampling drill, part of the DrACO sampling system. Science instruments include a mass spectrometer (DraMS), a gamma-ray spectrometer (DraGNS), a geophysical and meteorology package ((DraGMet), as well as a suite of cameras (DragonCam).

Following launch in 2026 and flybys of Venus and Earth, Dragonfly will reach Titan in 2034. Atmospheric entry and initial deceleration will be made using an aeroshell, followed by drogue parachute deployment. After about 80 minutes the main parachute is deployed, and 15 minutes later at an altitude of 1.2 km Dragonfly is released and begins powered flight. It will land in dune fileds in the northwestern area of the Shangri-La sand sea in the equatorial region. After making in-situ measurements and studying this area, it will begin its campaign of flying a few km at a time to other sites to make in-situ studies. It will spend at least one Titan day (one Tsol, equivalent to 16 Earth days) at each site before moving on. It will spend the Titan night (8 Earth days) charging its batteries from the RTG before each flight. It is expected to cover roughly 180 km over the course of the 2.7 Earth-year nominal mission, ending up in 80 km diameter Selk Crater, north of the initial landing site.

Various types of measurements will be done at each site. The sampling system can deliver surface samples to the mass spectrometer for analysis. The gamma-ray spectrometer can measure bulk composition and shallow stratigraphy. Th e meteorology and geophysical sensors record atmospheric properties and seismic activity. Cameras will image small-scale, panoramic, and aerial views of the surface.

Dragonfly is the fourth selection of the New Frontiers program for medium-class spaceships to investigate high-priority solar system targets. The cost is capped at $850 million. Details of this mission are not complete and subject to change as it evolves. For more information, see:

https://dragonfly.jhuapl.edu/What-Is-Dragonfly/

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Image credit: Johns Hopkins APL

Alternate Names

    Facts in Brief

    Launch Date: 2026-01-01
    Launch Vehicle: 
    Launch Site: , United States
    Mass: 420 kg
    Nominal Power: 70 W

    Funding Agency

    • National Aeronautics and Space Administration (United States)

    Discipline

    • Planetary Science

    Additional Information

    Questions and comments about this spacecraft can be directed to: Dr. David R. Williams

     

    Personnel

    NameRoleOriginal AffiliationE-mail
    Dr. Elizabeth TurtleMission Principal InvestigatorApplied Physics LaboratoryElizabeth.Turtle@jhuapl.edu
    Dr. Peter D. BediniProgram ManagerApplied Physics Laboratorybedini@umich.edu
    Dr. Melissa TrainerDeputy Mission Principal InvestigatorNASA Goddard Space Flight Centermelissa.a.trainer@nasa.gov
    Dr. Jason BarnesDeputy Mission Principal InvestigatorUniversity of Idahojwbarnes@uidaho.edu
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