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NASA Saturn Drone Launch Delayed to 2028

The car-sized, nuclear-powered drone is designed to explore Saturn’s moon Titan for organic materials

Scarlett Evans

December 4, 2023

2 Min Read
Artist’s impression of Dragonfly soaring over the dunes of Saturn’s moon Titan
Artist’s impression of Dragonfly soaring over the dunes of Saturn’s moon TitanJohn Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory

NASA’s mission to launch a car-sized, nuclear-powered drone to explore one of Saturn’s moons, has entered the next stage of development. 

The agency said it plans to launch its Dragonfly drone to Saturn’s large moon, Titan in 2028.

The mission was originally scheduled for 2027 but was delayed due to budget constraints. 

The drone will be built and operated by the Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Laurel, Maryland, which will be equipped with cameras, sensors and samplers to examine areas of the moon for organic materials. 

NASA has authorized the final mission design and fabrication of Dragonfly after the drone successfully passed its preliminary design review last year.

"The Dragonfly team has successfully overcome a number of technical and programmatic challenges in this daring endeavor to gather new science on Titan,” said Nicola Fox, associate administrator of NASA's Science Mission Directorate. “I am proud of this team and their ability to keep all aspects of the mission moving.” 

The team tested the drone’s guidance, navigation and control systems over deserts in California, selected for its similar terrain to Titan’s surface.

The team also conducted multiple flight-system tests in NASA’s wind tunnels at its Langley Research Center and ran a full-scale, instrumented lander model through temperature and atmospheric pressure simulations in APL’s new, 3,000-cubic-foot Titan Chamber.

Related:NASA Commissions $10M UAVs for Mars Mission

NASA said it will officially assess the mission’s launch readiness date in mid-2024 at the Agency Program Management Council.

“Dragonfly is such a daring endeavor, like nothing that has ever been done before,” said Elizabeth Turtle, Dragonfly’s principal investigator. “I’m inspired by the way our team has repeatedly overcome challenges by working together and thinking outside the box. 

“We’ve demonstrated that we’re ready for the next steps on the path to Titan and we’ll keep moving forward with the same curiosity and creativity that have brought Dragonfly to this point.”

About the Author(s)

Scarlett Evans

Assistant Editor, IoT World Today

Scarlett Evans is the assistant editor for IoT World Today, with a particular focus on robotics and smart city technologies. Scarlett has previous experience in minerals and resources with Mine Australia, Mine Technology and Power Technology. She joined Informa in April 2022.

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