NASA Developing Drone to Find Alien Life on Saturn's Largest Moon

Wednesday, 10 January 2018 - 10:49AM
Space
Technology
Wednesday, 10 January 2018 - 10:49AM
NASA Developing Drone to Find Alien Life on Saturn's Largest Moon
< >
Image credit: YouTube

A Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) led team of engineers and researchers from the Penn State Department of Aerospace Engineering are hard at work developing a piece of tech that may be crucial to NASA's upcoming mission to Titan, Saturn's largest moon.

The project is a dual-quadcopter called Dragonfly that would be used to fly between various sites on Titan to study various aspects of the moon, including its surface, atmosphere, chemistry, and geology. Basically, it's a suped-up science drone.

The multi-rotor lander will need to work in Titan's denser atmosphere (four times that of Earth's), and its low gravity, which means that the engineers have a special set of challenges to overcome with the design and mechanics.




"We are tremendously excited and proud to be a part of the Dragonfly team," said Penn State Associate Professor Jack Langelaan. "Titan's environment is ideal for flying, and the mobility of a flight vehicle will give planetary scientists access to a broad area of Titan, letting us see variations in geology, surface and subsurface geochemistry and atmospheric conditions."

"We're using technologies developed for drones that fly here on Earth and modifying them so we can enable science missions on different planets," Langelaan added. "That's about as cool as it gets! We are also using computational techniques that are being developed to help design wind turbine farms to model Titan's atmosphere: This will help us develop and test the flight control systems. And we are also developing and testing methods to protect the vehicle from Titan's cold environment."

As we've reported before, with an atmosphere, rain, and lakes (made of methane) Titan represents one of the best chances for actually finding alien life in our own solar system. NASA's Dragonfly drone could be how we finally make first contact.

A half-scale Dragonfly has already been built and has been used for test flights here on Earth. The APL team is one of two finalists vying for the opportunity to visit Titan with NASA, the other being the Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return (CAESAR) team led by Cornell University and NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center. Both teams will receive funding this year to further develop their concepts, one will be selected in 2019, and the mission launch will take place in the mid 2020s, according to Phys.org. Check out the Dragonfly proposal presentation below to learn more about the concept.

Science
NASA
Space
Technology
No