It was a much-anticipated announcement. However, the winner of NASA’s next New Frontiers mission selection is Dragonfly! This ambitious mission would be the first return to Saturn’s moon Titan since Cassini/Huygens, and this drone-like rotorcraft will fly to various locations on Titan to search for clues to the origins of life, and probably even proof of life itself, on this alien yet remarkably Earth-like moon.
As an alternative of a rover as on Mars, NASA chose a drone-like design for Dragonfly. It will be capable of fly to different areas and take samples of the organic-rich sands to investigate them. Since Titan’s atmosphere is four times denser than Earth’s, it’s actually easier to fly on Titan than on Earth. Dragonfly would be the first such rotorcraft sent to discover another world. NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said:
With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will once again do what no one else can do. Visiting this mysterious ocean world may revolutionize what we know about life within the universe. This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even only a few years ago, however, we’re now prepared for Dragonfly’s amazing flight.
That is an exciting mission, however, it is going to take time to get to Titan. Dragonfly will launch in 2026 and arrive in 2034. The Saturn system is a long way away from Earth, at 886 million miles (1.4 billion kilometers) from the sun (about 10 times farther than Earth).