Nasa to send 'Dragonfly' drone to Saturn moon Titan

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Once on Titan, the mission is expected to last for about 2.5 years, during which time the probe will perform around 25 hops and fly a total distance of around 180 kilometers (110 miles), according to NASA.

A rotorcraft called "Dragonfly" will arrive at the Saturn's moon in 2034, looking for prebiotic chemical processes common on both Titan and Earth, which may lend clues to how life may have arisen on Earth, the Xinhua news agency reported quoting NASA.

On Thursday, NASA announced the target of its next expedition probe into the corners of our Solar System: Titan, Saturn's largest moon and one of the most intriguing places in the hunt for extraterrestrial life.

Titan has organic compounds in its atmosphere, and there is water ice underneath the surface that may ooze out much like a volcano would.

The underground ocean could harbor life as we know it, while the hydrocarbon lakes and seas on the moon's surface could contain life forms that rely on different chemistries - or the body could be lifeless.

The mission, named Dragonfly, will explore the mysterious world using pioneering drone technology. That doesn't mean we will find a race of purple Titans on the icy moon - and certainly not any particularly mad ones, either - but it may tell us a thing or two about how life starts.

Dragonfly is scheduled to launch in 2026, a slight delay in the originally planned launch window of 2025.

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"NASA's missions of planetary exploration are one of the coolest things that we humans do as a species", Barnes says in a statement. This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but were now ready for Dragonflys wonderful flight.

"It's remarkable to think of this rotorcraft flying miles and miles across the organic sand dunes of Saturn's largest moon, exploring the processes that shape this extraordinary environment", he added.

[Dragonfly] will first land at the equatorial "Shangri-La" dune fields, which are terrestrially similar to the linear dunes in Namibia in southern Africa and offer a diverse sampling location.

The moon has a nitrogen-based atmosphere like Earth, but unlike our planet also has clouds and rain of methane.

Its surface temperature is around -179 degrees Celsius, with a surface pressure 50% higher than Earth's. The mission is part of the agency's New Frontiers program, which includes the New Horizons mission to Pluto (and beyond) and the Juno mission to Jupiter.

Thomas Zurbuchen, Nasa's associate administrator for science, said: "Titan is unlike any other place in the solar system, and Dragonfly is like no other mission".

The mission will be led by Elizabeth Turtle, of Johns Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Md.

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