Inside the Nasa “helicopter” drone that will hunt for extraterrestrial life on the mysterious moon of Saturn – Ireland’s sun

NASA is sending a helicopter-style drone to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, in search of extraterrestrial life.

Using propellers, the Dragonfly spacecraft will fly and land in multiple locations on the icy moon to see if it can feed microbes.

NASA's Dragonfly drone will reach Saturn's moon Titan in 2034


NASA’s Dragonfly drone will reach Saturn’s moon Titan in 2034Credit: AFP or Licensor

Announced in 2019, the mission will also search the mysterious world for clues to the origins of humanity.

Dragonfly, a golf cart-sized drone with four propellers, will embark on an eight-year mission to Titan in 2026.

Titan is a moon orbiting the gaseous planet Saturn, known for its resemblance to Earth’s early features.

It therefore offers research potential to study the origins of life, and some scientists believe microbial life may still exist there today.

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The nuclear-powered Dragonfly will be the first drone lander capable of flying over 100 miles through Titan’s dense atmosphere.

“Titan is unlike any other place in our solar system and most closely resembles early Earth,” said former NASA chief Jim Bridenstine.

The lander is scheduled to arrive in 2034 and land in the Shangri-la Dune Field near Titan’s Selk Crater.

Researchers describe it as a “scientifically remarkable area” with a dense atmosphere and many dunes.

It’s a desert-like region where clouds rain down methane and is believed to be rich in hydrocarbons, one of life’s most important building blocks.

Dragonfly’s instruments will assess Titan’s habitability and look for chemical signatures of past or even present life.

The rotorcraft will fly to dozens of promising locations on Titan, looking for chemical processes common to both Titan and Earth.

And it promises to be a mission with many milestones.

According to Nasa, Dragonfly marks the first time NASA will fly a multi-rotor science vehicle on another planet.

It has eight rotors and flies like a large drone and will be able to fly its entire science payload to new locations.

To do this, the mission will take advantage of Titan’s dense atmosphere – four times denser than Earth’s.

Dragonfly was the fourth solar system exploration mission selected under NASA’s New Frontiers program.

That’s a series of missions, including the New Horizons probe, launched in 2006 to study Pluto, and OSIRIS-REx, launched in 2016 to study the rocky asteroid Bennu.

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Titan was last studied by the Cassini-Huygens international mission.

In 2017, the Cassini spacecraft crashed into Saturn, ending two decades of exploration.

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