A University of Idaho researcher’s dream of launching a robotic lander to Saturn’s moon, Titan, has won an “A-OK” from NASA.
The mission, known as “Dragonfly” involves 35 scientists from around the world. Led by Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory, it has been funded for up to $850 million under NASA’s New Frontiers competition.
“NASA’s missions of planetary exploration are one of the coolest things that we humans do as a species,” said U of I Associate Professor Jason Barnes, a founding member and deputy principal investigator of the Dragonfly project. “To have our idea be selected to actually fly is what every planetary scientist dreams about.”
Dragonfly is set to launch in 2025 and arrive at Titan in December 2034. Its mission there will last two years. It’s expected to fly from site to site, potentially traveling up to 10’s of kilometers at a time.
Based on what they learned from the 2004 Cassini mission, it is believed that Titan likely has rivers, lakes and seas, although the liquid is likely ethane and methane. It may have an ice layer that hides a global ocean. And, it is expected to have gigantic dunes made of complex hydrocarbons.
This is the fourth winner of the New Frontiers Program. The past winners were New Horizons exploration of Pluto, the Juno investigation of Jupiter, and ORIRIS-REx, which will sample an asteroid.