NASA gave the green light to the launch of the Dragonfly drone to Titan

After a series of delays due to the spread of Covid-19 and rising costs, NASA has confirmed that the Saturn rover Titan will launch in 2028.

The US space agency has just confirmed that the Dragonfly drone mission to Titan, the largest moon of Saturn, is on track for a July 2028 launch. This highly anticipated decision gives the mission team the green light to conduct final mission planning and testing in preparation for a new launch date.Designed to be about the size of a car, Dragonfly is being built by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Maryland and will reach Titan in 2034. The nuclear-powered rover is expected to make one flyby every Titan day (equivalent to 16 Earth days) over the next 2.5 years, searching for precursor chemical processes at various pre-selected sites on the icy moon.

Titan is approximately 1.2 billion kilometers away from Earth and is one of the most difficult objects in the solar system to explore; But it has so many special features that it has fascinated scientists despite the exorbitant cost to get there.

Titan is the only moon in the solar system surrounded by a dense atmosphere and supports liquid seas on its surface. Planetary scientists have long believed that Titan could provide clues to the origin of life, thanks to its similarity to an ancient methane-rich Earth. Rivers of hydrocarbons, along with potentially life-supporting organic matter, support the habitability of this icy moon, and Dragonfly will try to help investigate this.

While the Dragonfly mission passed a series of independent technical reviews earlier last year and was on track for its original launch date of 2027, NASA pushed back the final launch date due to uncertainty about how much funding will be available for mission development this year and next. .

The US space agency said in a statement: "The proposed 2025 budget for NASA, released by the Biden administration in early March, allocates $2.73 billion to robotic planetary exploration, including the Dragonfly mission; While Mammoth's total cost over its lifetime will now be $3.35 billion.

The said price tag is significantly higher than the original proposed cost of Dragonfly. When Dragonfly was first selected in 2019 as the fourth mission of NASA's New Frontiers program, its development was limited to $1 billion. According to the space agency, the mission's budget has increased due to design iterations, supply chain problems caused by the spread of Covid-19, and additional funds for the launch vehicle, which will compensate for the delay in reaching Titan by shortening the spacecraft's cruise phase.

In recent years, several parts of the Dragonfly drone have been tested on the ground, including its control and navigation systems. In July 2022, mission engineers flew a Dragonfly-like drone over California's Imperial Sand Dunes, which resemble Titan's organic-rich dunes, and in the wind tunnels of NASA's Langley Research Center in Virginia. Now, NASA's green light allows the mission team to move on to the final design stages.

"Dragonfly is an amazing science mission with broad support from the science community, and we are excited to take the next steps in this mission," Nicky Fox, associate administrator for NASA's Science Missions Division, said in a statement. The exploration of Titan will push the boundaries of space exploration with airships."