NASA’s Dragonfly Mission Will Fly Through the Clouds of Titan, Saturn’s Biggest Moon
by Meilan Solly Smithsonian.com
On Thursday, June 27, NASA announced the latest mission chosen for its interplanetary New Frontiers program: Come 2026, the space agency will launch a drone-like dual-quadcopter dubbed Dragonfly on a journey to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. Titan is the only known world besides Earth with standing rivers, lakes and seas on its surface.
The expedition—the fourth to be funded under New Frontiers, which supports select planetary exploration projects with a price tag of less than $850 million—will use Titan’s dense atmosphere to its full advantage, sending the agile spacecraft flying across dozens of locations upon its arrival in 2034. In addition to exploring diverse locales, Dragonfly will simultaneously strive to identify large organic molecules conducive to creating the conditions necessary for life.
As Sarah Kaplan explains for the Washington Post, Titan boasts mountains of ice, liquid hydrocarbon-filled rivers and lakes, and a thick, nitrogen- and methane-rich atmosphere. If there’s any water to be found on the moon, it’s not on the surface; instead, scientists believe the liquid could be hiding beneath the celestial body’s frozen crust.