Nasa funds project to send helicopters to Titan


Nasa is to fund a project to send a helicopter in search of alien life.

The agency announced last week that the project, named Dragonfly, has been selected as a finalist for a new expedition that will launch during the next decade.

Scientists plan to send a drone-like multi-rotor helicopter to fly over the surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, taking samples at dozens of different locations hundreds of miles apart. The launch is scheduled for 2025, with the helicopter touching down on Titan in 2034.

Each times it lands, Dragonfly will sample the surface and atmosphere with a range of science instruments to assess how habitable Titan is and to search for signs of water or hydrocarbon-based life.

Nasa will fund the project until at least 2019, as part of the New Frontiers project, which has already sent the New Horizons probe to Pluto and the Juno spacecraft to Jupiter.

Principal investigator for the Dragonfly mission Elizabeth Turtle, of Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory, which is overseeing the project, told the Daily Telegraph newspaper it was clear that Titan has “the ingredients for life”.

She added: “Dragonfly is designed to go back, build on what we’ve learned, and answer the fundamental unknowns that remain about Titan.”

A second mission, known as Caesar – Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return, also got funding. The Cornell University project aims to collect samples from a comet and return them to Earth. Nasa will select either Dragonfly or Caesar for the final mission in Spring 2019.