Philip P. Ide

Author, programmer, science enthusiast, half-wit.
Life is sweet. Have you tasted it lately?

User Tools

Site Tools


Dragonfly to Explore Titan

This illustration shows NASA’s Dragonfly rotorcraft-lander approaching a site on Saturn’s exotic moon, Titan. Taking advantage of Titan’s dense atmosphere and low gravity, Dragonfly will explore dozens of locations across the icy world, sampling and measuring the compositions of Titan's organic surface materials to characterize the habitability of Titan’s environment and investigate the progression of prebiotic chemistry. Credits: NASA/JHU-APL

Few worlds excite exoplanetary chemists like Titan, Saturn's enigmatic and largest moon. It is the second-largest moon in the solar system, and the only one known to have a dense atmosphere. As such, it is seen as an analogue to the early Earth, and therefore important in understanding how life might have evolved on our homeworld.

Dragonfly will launch in 2026 and arrive at its destination in 2034. What makes Dragonfly different speaks loudly of what makes Titan different. By taking advantage of the thick, dense atmosphere, Dragonfly will fly to dozens of different locations. Yup, fly. It's a rotorcraft, basically a kind of drone.

Rotorcraft Design

Pictures speak a thousand words, so take a trip to this youtube video and see how it works. [note: I've provided a link rather than embedding it because youtube might attach cookies]]

Titan has subsurface oceans and reservoirs of water, and at one time these were also on the surface. The complex chemistry required for life is available in (relative) abundance on this world.

Rovers take time to move from one place to the next, and generally stay within a limited area. Since Dragonfly can take to the air, it can range much further and do so with greater safety. The original landing site has been determined after scouring 13 years worth of Cassini data to find a safe, calm weather period to land, as well as a location. This will be in the “Shangri-La” dune fields in the equatorial zone, which resemble the linear dune fields of Namibia in southern Africa.

A quote from the NASA page dedicated to the Dragonfly announcement:

Dragonfly will explore this region in short flights, building up to a series of longer “leapfrog” flights of up to 5 miles (8 kilometers), stopping along the way to take samples from compelling areas with diverse geography. It will finally reach the Selk impact crater, where there is evidence of past liquid water, organics – the complex molecules that contain carbon, combined with hydrogen, oxygen, and nitrogen – and energy, which together make up the recipe for life. The lander will eventually fly more than 108 miles (175 kilometers) – nearly double the distance traveled to date by all the Mars rovers combined.

It's that last bit that has real significance. Over 100 miles, and twice the distance of all the rovers combined. In 2020, The Mars2020 Rover will arrive on Mars, and it will have a helicopter drone to scout the ground ahead and look for interesting places to visit. This sudden surge in aerial science is no accident of timing. Rovers can carry large science-package payloads, but their ability to move around, although far better than a static lander (obviously), has limitations. Drones and helicopters can extend range and versatility, but at the cost of having to leave a lot of mass behind.

Dragonfly will not be able to carry as large a science-package as a 4 ton rover, so it's a trade-off for versatility and range. Mars2020 has the best of both worlds - a large rover to carry the science-package, and a lightweight drone that will be used both for scouting safe routes and finding locations of interest that otherwise the rover might simply have rolled past.

The Mars2020 drone is a twin-propeller model, with both propellers on the overhead stem (one turning counter to the other to stop the helicopter from spinning). Dragonfly on the other hand, has a much more drone-like model, with two rotors at each corner to carry the above-normal weight of the package. The thick atmosphere helps here, offering more lift, while the low gravity mens the payload can be heavier than on Earth.

For more information on Dragonfly, visit NASA's Dragonfly Will Fly Around Titan Looking for Origins, Signs of Life at NASA.

This website uses cookies. By using the website, you agree with storing cookies on your computer. Also you acknowledge that you have read and understand our Privacy Policy. If you do not agree leave the website.More information about cookies


Enter your comment:
blog/articles/science/dragonfly_rotorcraft.txt · Last modified: 2019/07/03 14:30 by Phil Ide

Except where otherwise noted, content on this wiki is licensed under the following license: Copyright © Phil Ide
Donate Powered by PHP Valid HTML5 Valid CSS Driven by DokuWiki
  • ISSplugin-autotooltip__default plugin-autotooltip_bigInternational Space Station

    This page has a portal through which you can view the current location of the International Space Station, updating in real-time. The tracker itself comes from the European Space Agency (ESA).

    There is also a handy link to get email notifications direct from NASA when the ISS is visible in your night sky.
  • Mars Weatherplugin-autotooltip__default plugin-autotooltip_bigMars Weather

    Weather Reports Insight Lander Perseverance Rover Curiosity data to come [Current positions of Earth and Mars] Image courtesy of and © Dominic Ford

    This image is updated once per week. A daily update is available on the Mars Solar Conjunctions page when such events are active.

    You can check the position of Mars vs the Sun and Earth for any date here:
  • Downloadsplugin-autotooltip__default plugin-autotooltip_bigDownloads

    Orbital Calculator Current Version This is a portable application, meaning there is no installer. Just unzip into a folder and run the executable. Since it is portable, it can be run from a USB stick.

    A full description and a list of the features are available
  • Orbital Calculatorplugin-autotooltip__default plugin-autotooltip_bigOrbital Calculator

    I needed to calculate orbital characteristics for any orbit around any gravitational mass (because I write sci-fi stories), so I wrote this program because I'm a programmer and I'm too lazy to do it by hand all the time. The program has expanded over the last few years, sometimes from suggestions by other writers. I make it freely available and as simple to use as possible. It now has a list of functions as long as your arm (assuming you're not a tentacle user), and the numbe…
  • Cookie Policy & GDPRplugin-autotooltip__default plugin-autotooltip_bigCookie Policy & GDPR

    There are NO tracking cookies on this site!

    The Cookie policy is straightforward. This site only uses cookies that are required to make your experience of using this site better, and only uses session cookies (see exceptions below). Session cookies are deleted when you close your browser.
  • Book Reviewsplugin-autotooltip__default plugin-autotooltip_bigBook Reviews

    Here you can find all the book reviews, broken down by genre, and further subdivided by author. If you want me to review your novel, please read my Rules on Reviewing.

    * Science-Fiction * Fantasy * Non-Fiction
  • Contactplugin-autotooltip__default plugin-autotooltip_bigContact

    If you have a burning desire to contact me, use the discussion form below. Anything you say remains private between you and me.