Inside Nasa ‘helicopter’ that will hunt for life on mysterious Saturn moon

NASA is sending a helicopter-style drone to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, on its hunt for alien life.

Using propellers, the spacecraft Dragonfly will fly and land on several spots on the icy moon to study whether it can support 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 licensors

The mission, which was announced in 2019, will also explore the mysterious world for clues on humanity’s origins.

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

Titan a moon orbiting the gaseous planet Saturn known for its similarity to Earth’s early characteristics.

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

The nuclear-powered Dragonfly will be the first drone lander with the capability to fly over 100 miles through Titan’s thick atmosphere.

“Titan is unlike any other place in our solar system, and the most comparable to early Earth,” former Nasa chief Jim Bridenstine said.

Due to arrive in 2034, the lander will touch down in the Shangri-la dune field near Titan’s Selk crater.

Researchers describe it as a “scientifically remarkable area” with a thick atmosphere and plenty of dunes.

It’s a desert-like region where clouds rain methane, and is thought to be rich with hydrocarbons, one of the key building blocks of life.

Dragonfly’s instruments will evaluate Titan’s habitability and search 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 on both Titan and Earth.

And it promises to be a mission of many milestones.

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

It has eight rotors and flies like a large drone, and will be capable of flying its entire science payload to new places.

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, which launched in 2016 to study the rocky asteroid Bennu.

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

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

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