Researchers are eyeing the largest moon of Saturn

Researchers are eyeing the largest moon of Saturn

Artistic vision of the proposed quad-copter Dragonfly, landing on the surface of Titan. He turns his rotors and rises again to explore the landscape and atmosphere

NASA is considering a revolutionary plan that could deliver a quadrocopter to the surface of Saturn’s largest moon. The Dragonfly project would take advantage of Titan’s dense, calm atmosphere to navigate to different locations and measure, as well as analyze chemistry, geology, and life potential.

The mechanism is designed according to the models of unmanned earthly aircraft and will have four pairs of stacked rotors, which will allow the design to move a few hundred kilograms across the satellite.

Normal rovers are slow, but Dragonfly can explore hundreds of kilometers. The length will be pulled out by 2 m, and several rotors will allow to provide high-quality control over the vehicle.

For many years, people planned to do the study of Titan in a balloon, rover or large aircraft. But all of these devices face constraints, including mobility, durability, range and control efficiency.

The atmospheric conditions of Titan, with its orange-brown haze of methane and nitrogen, made the satellite hidden from earthly eyes. It was only in 2005 that the Huygens (part of the Cassini mission), which obtained several surface shots, was lifted up by a curtain.

Researchers are eyeing the largest moon of Saturn

Professor Katherine Nash stands on Mount Whitney in the California region of Sierra Nevada. This is one of the leading authors of a project to create a quadrocopter that explores Titan.

Due to the large distance from the Sun and the dense atmosphere, the Dragonfly will have to be fed from plutonium using a multi-band radioisotope thermoelectric generator. The same energy source used the Curiosity rover and the Cassini mission. On one charge, he will be able to fly several kilometers at night and hundreds of kilometers in one day on Titan (16 Earth).

Dragonfly will spend less time flying, and the duration of the mission is 2 years. The main tasks will be sampling for organic chemistry and suitability of living conditions. Also monitoring of atmospheric and surface conditions, the transfer of images of the relief and the study of satellite seismology.

Titan remains a big mystery. But there is information about the presence of methane and ethane, occurring at a temperature of -200 ° C, and the burning of ice in pebbles the size of marble. A windless atmosphere can float above frozen hydrocarbon lakes. Below the surface is an unusual chemical ice-water soup, in which life can be found.

Dragonfly was one of two recent NASA-selected projects from the original dozen of proposals.

Researchers are eyeing the largest moon of Saturn

A composite image shows an infrared view of Saturn's Titan satellite from the Cassini spacecraft. Made during the mission T-114 (November 13, 2015)

The second project was CAESAR, which will try to return to Earth a sample of the comet 67P / Churyumov-Gerasimenko to determine its origin and history. Both teams will receive funding from NASA in the amount of $ 4 million. It is expected that in mid-2019, the agency will allocate one project, which will reach almost $ 1 billion. If Dragonfly gets the honor, he could start as early as 2025. Then he will need another 5 or more years to get to Titan. In the space framework, this is not much, and it is surprising that the project itself has moved from concept to implementation in just 2 years.

Titan is the largest satellite of Saturn and the second largest in the system, second only to Ganymede. With a radius of 2575 km, it surpasses the planet Mercury in size. It is also the only satellite with clouds, a dense atmospheric layer and fluid circulation.

Titan is 1.2 million km away from Saturn, which is why it spends 15 days and 22 hours on the orbital path. In 1994, the Hubble Space Telescope received pictures of a huge bright continent. But then no one could confirm the presence of liquid seas.

The surface remained a mystery until 2004, when the Cassini apparatus arrived. This ship was created with the ability to view the haze of a satellite using a radar and show in the spectral windows what is below. A long study allowed us to display most of the surface map and explore the atmosphere. In 2005, the Huygens probe passed through the atmospheric layer.

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