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The Science of Dragonfly

The Science of Dragonfly


[Music] Saturn’s largest moon,
Titan, has a thick atmosphere and a frozen surface
rich in organic molecules. In 2034, a NASA mission called
Dragonfly will arrive at Titan and study its chemical makeup. Dragonfly is a rotorcraft
designed to visit multiple sites across the moon’s
varied terrain. At each new landing site on
Titan’s surface, Dragonfly uses a pulsed neutron generator
and onboard gamma ray sensor to detect key elements such as
carbon and hydrogen in organic materials, or
oxygen in water ice. Dragonfly determines if there
are well-defined layers of these materials just below the lander. For a closer inspection,
Dragonfly uses its drill to generate tailings from
Titan’s hard, frozen surface. These surface samples can
then be ingested through the pneumatic system, carried
with Titan air into the chilled sample lines and to the
sample collection carousel. One of the carousel’s sample
cups is placed in a pneumatic port. The cup captures the surface
material from the cold air stream and transfers it to
the chemical laboratory for measurement. Pulses from a laser release
large organic molecules from the surface sample for analysis
in the mass spectrometer. The mass spectrometer sorts
molecules by mass and measures diagnostic fragments that tell
Dragonfly the kinds of chemical components that are present in
the surface, and whether there are molecules of
prebiotic interest. For those potential prebiotic
samples, a new cup is placed into an oven and heated to
release molecules into a gas chromatograph, where they are
sorted for size and type before entering the mass spectrometer. This advanced separation of
organic components includes isolating molecules with the
same formula but different chiral
arrangements, or handedness. Having a preference for one
handedness over another is a key biosignature for life on Earth. When the chemical analysis is
complete, Dragonfly may choose to take another surface sample,
or find a new location on Titan to investigate. [Music]


Reader Comments

  1. With the heavy dense atmosphere I wonder how different the drone navigates compared to our atmosphere… Would it be slow?

  2. That is mad. How thick is that atmosphere, and how do we compensate Titan's lower than Mars gravity? I can't do that math. This would be a giant breakthrough as the first of a series of drones to explore our solar system. Power, I assume, is supplied by an on-board radioisotope thermoelectric generator (RTG). So technically it's a nuclear powered drone.

  3. Dragonfly sound's like an amazing concept/design. It can cover different area's doing its sicence. I'm hoping it has an excellent camera on board! 😁

  4. 2034? How are you guys even sure this endeavor will still be relevant that far in advance? Are there parts of the mission that you've already earmarked for near-future technology?

  5. totally cool. When we first got out to Saturn…I knew Saturn was our best bet for habitation , after earth, in our solar system. From a base there we can mine the other moons & Saturn itself as well.

  6. O conhecimento aguça o engenho!! Está máquina donzelinha tem todos os colectores em forma de carrossel para estudar o que existe na lua Titã….muito prática e nós vai dar uma noção de que são feitas as coisas?? Tal como as moléculas nas suas propriedades e a sua composição química serão tridimensionais??Serão mais complexas… A libélula vai ter uma tarefa titâ[email protected]!!!

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