QUO Fast Radio Bursts

Future Missions E5: Eyes on Dragonfly

August 09, 2021 Queen's Observatory Season 2 Episode 10
QUO Fast Radio Bursts
Future Missions E5: Eyes on Dragonfly
Show Notes


  • NASA Dragonfly mission is an 8-blade drone on the Saturn’s largest moon Titan. Pencilled to launch in 2027 and arrive in 2035.
  • Dragonfly will sample and examine dozens of promising sites around Titan and search for the building blocks of life. 
  • Dragonfly’s main aim is going to be to study the building block of life. So, answer questions like “what happened in the past that made life possible on Earth?” 
  • Titan is hard to study from Earth because it has methane clouds
  • However, those clouds are a result of the unique weather (clouds, rain, oceans, rivers) occurring on Titan, except all with methane instead of water

Why Titan?:

  • Dragonfly won't be the first to land on Titan
  • The Cassini space mission (1997) had lander named Hugyens which landed on Titan to study properties.
  • Huygens directly sampled aerosols in the atmosphere and confirmed that carbon and nitrogen are the major constituents. 
  • Rippling sand dunes, like those in Earth's Arabian desert, can be seen in the dark equatorial regions of Titan. 
  • Huygens also measured radio signals during its descent that strongly suggested the presence of an ocean 35 to 50 miles (55 to 80 kilometers) below the moon's surface. This means Titan potentially contains habitable environments.

The Dragonfly Mission:

  • The mission could last 2.7-years (32-month) where Dragonfly will explore Titan’s diverse environments by flying like a drone. 
  • Apart from astrobiology, its instruments will investigate the moon’s atmospheric and surface properties, subsurface ocean, liquid reservoirs, and areas where water and complex organic materials key to life once existed
  • Communicating with Dragonfly is very challenging because it is so far from Earth. A large dish will be needed to send strong enough signals
  • Dragonfly will be powered by a nuclear RTG which won't need sunlight to power the drone.
  • Flying in Titan is relatively easy given the low gravity (about 1/8th of Earth), and thick atmosphere (about 4 times Earth). However, it must avoid breaking the lower sound bearer on Titan.

Links to Science Outreach Material:

Special thanks to Colin Vendromin for the music also thanks to Zac Kenny for the logo!