NASA has announced the next destination in its space exploration effort: Saturn’s icy moon Titan. The mission will kick off in 2026 with the launch of the Dragonfly rotorcraft-lander. Due to a combination of low gravity and a dense atmosphere, NASA says Dragonfly will be able to investigate zones of different locations on the moon.
Titan is the gorgeous teal-colored icy moon that was discovered by Dutch astronomer Christiaan Huygens in 1655. The icy celestial body is Saturn’s largest moon, and it also has the distinction of being the second largest natural satellite located in our Solar System.
In an announcement on June 27, NASA revealed that it will launch the Dragonfly rotorcraft-lander in 2026, but the vehicle won’t arrive on Saturn’s moon until 2034. Once it arrives, NASA intends to send the lander to dozens of different locations on Titan, ones it has identified as ‘promising’ for studying prebiotic chemical processes.
This will be the first time NASA flies a multi-rotor lander to another planet for the sake of science, the space agency reported on Thursday. Because Titan’s atmosphere is four times denser than on Earth, this will be the first time a NASA vehicle is able to fly its full science payload to different destinations of the celestial body.
NASA explains why it is eager to explore Titan: the moon is an early Earth analog, according to the space agency, meaning it may offer clues to how life formed on our own planet. To kick things off, Dragonfly will perform a ‘baseline mission’ that lasts 2.7 years and will involve exploring a variety of environments.
Over the course of its mission, Dragonfly will also look for signs of life and will study both the moon’s atmosphere and liquid bodies.