Dragonfly, the fourth mission of the New Frontiers program, will be launched in 2027.
NASA’s mission to Saturn’s giant moon Titan, dubbed ‘Dragonfly’, will carry a mass spectrometer (DraMS), designed to analyze the detailed chemical composition of this celestial body. The instrument, aboard the mission, which will be launched in 2027, may also shed light on prebiotic chemistrythe chemical pathways that occurred on the early Earth and that ultimately led to the formation of life, as reported last Friday.
“We want to know if the kind of chemistry that could be important to Earth’s first prebiochemical systems is taking place on Titan,” explained Melissa Trainer, a NASA astrobiologist. The Dragonfly robotic helicopter will take advantage of Titan’s low gravity and dense atmosphere to sample different surface points of interest, separated by several kilometers. The DraMS instrument is designed to examine ‘in situ’ the samples of material taken by Dragonfly and will allow to study, remotely, their chemical composition.
“DraMS is designed to look at the organic molecules that may be present on Titan, their composition and distribution in different surface environments,” Trainer says. Dragonfly scientists didn’t want to “reinvent the wheel” by trying to search for organic compounds on Titan, so they relied on established methods that have been applied on Mars and elsewhere. “This design has given us an instrument that is very flexible, that can adapt to different types of surface samples,” he explained.
Dragonfly will be the fourth mission of NASA’s New Frontiers program and is scheduled to reach the aforementioned moon in the mid-2030s.