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What Is Dragonfly?

Dragonfly is a rotorcraft lander mission – proposed to NASA's New Frontiers Program – designed to take advantage of Titan's environment to sample materials and determine surface composition in different geologic settings. This revolutionary mission concept includes the capability to explore diverse locations to characterize the habitability of Titan's environment, to investigate how far prebiotic chemistry has progressed, and even to search for chemical signatures that could indicate water-based and/or hydrocarbon-based life.

Image Credit: Johns Hopkins APL

Flying to Sites of Interest Across Titan

Making multiple flights, the Dragonfly dual-quadcopter could explore a variety of locations on Titan. The dense, calm atmosphere and low gravity make flying an ideal way to travel to different areas of the moon – studies from the late-1990s onward identified aerial mobility, such as that provided by helicopters, balloons, and airplanes, as a key enabler for Titan exploration. In under an hour, Dragonfly could cover tens of miles or kilometers, farther than any planetary rover has traveled. With one hop per full Titan day (16 Earth days), the rotorcraft would travel from its initial landing site to cover areas several hundred kilometers away during the planned two-year mission. Despite its unique ability to fly, Dragonfly would spend most of its time on Titan's surface making science measurements.

Unable to use solar power under Titan's hazy atmosphere, Dragonfly would use a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator (MMRTG), like the durable Curiosity rover on Mars. Flight, data transmission, and most science operations would be planned during Titan's daytime hours (eight Earth days), giving the rotorcraft plenty of time during the Titan night to recharge.

Dragonfly Mission Overview

Image Credit:Johns Hopkins APL

Artist Rendition of Dragonfly

Image Credit: Johns Hopkins APL

Artist Rendition of Dragonfly

Image Credit: Johns Hopkins APL


Dragonfly's Surface and Atmospheric Science Measurements...

  • Sample surface material and measure with a mass spectrometer to identify the chemical components and processes producing biologically relevant compounds
  • Measure bulk elemental surface composition with a neutron-activated gamma-ray spectrometer
  • Monitor atmospheric and surface conditions, including diurnal and spatial variations, with meteorology sensors
  • Use imaging to characterize geologic features
  • Perform seismic studies to detect subsurface activity and structure

...and In-flight Measurements

  • Contribute to atmospheric profiles
  • Provide aerial images of surface geology
  • Give context for surface measurements and scouting of sites of interest