TECH NASA announces new mission to explore Saturn's moon for origins, signs of life

TECH

NASA announces new mission to explore Saturn's moon for origins, signs of life

Xinhua

08:24, June 28, 2019

WASHINGTON, June 27 (Xinhua) -- The US space agency NASA announced Thursday that it will launch a spacecraft in 2026 to explore the richly organic world of Titan, an analog to the very early Earth.

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Cassini program manager Earl Maize, left, project scientist Linda Spilker, center, and flight director Julie Webster, right, during press conference following the final plunge of Cassini into Saturn's atmosphere at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif., on Sept. 15, 2017. (File photo: VCG)

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, according to NASA.

Titan, the second largest moon in the solar system, is an icy world whose surface is completely obscured by a nitrogen-based golden atmosphere, four times denser than Earth's.

Dragonfly, a drone-like spacecraft with eight rotors, will explore Titan's diverse environments from organic dunes to the floor of an impact crater where liquid water and complex organic materials key to life once existed together for possibly tens of thousands of years.

The instruments on the spacecraft will search for chemical evidence of past or extant life, according to NASA.

"Dragonfly will visit a world filled with a wide variety of organic compounds, which are the building blocks of life and could teach us about the origin of life itself," said Thomas Zurbuchen, NASA's associate administrator for science.

The rotorcraft will hop on the moon's surface in a series of leapfrog flights of up to eight km in order to take samples in diversified locations. It will eventually fly more than 175 km and become the first vehicle ever to fly its entire science payload to new places for repeatable and targeted access to surface materials.

"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," said Zurbuchen.

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