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Drones to go interplanetary with NASA Dragonfly

Warlike drones Titan
Illustration of Dragonfly rotor flying. Picture: NASA

Drones are already present on Earth, but they will turn the interplanetary with a planned mission called Dragonfly to Saturn's biggest moon.

NASA announced that the next new destination will be Titan and will use an unmanned spacecraft to fly to dozens of locations of the mysterious ocean world in search of building blocks of life.

Titan, which is larger than the planet Mercury, is believed to be similar to the very early Earth, and scientists hope to find prebiotic chemical processes that will provide clues as to how life began here.

The Dragonfly mission will start in 2026 and will arrive in Titan in 2034.

It will use the 13-year data collected during the Cassini mission to choose a calm landing time, initially on the equatorial dinar fields Shangri-La, resembling dunes in South Africa.

Dragonfly will have eight rotors and will operate as a large drone. It marks the first time NASA uses a multiple science vehicle on another planet.

The spacecraft agency said an unmanned spacecraft will use an atmosphere that is four times denser than the Earth to fly its scientific load to more destinations.

This would initially be a series of short hopes, built up to a series of up to five miles (8 km) flights, which will cumulatively see that they travel more than 108 miles (175 kilometers), almost double the distance crossing the entire Mars rover combined.

NASA said the 2.7-year mission would see the Dragonfly's environment, ranging from organic dunes to the impact crater floor, where liquid water and complex organic materials may have existed together for tens of thousands of years.

"With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will do what no one else can do," NASA administrator Jim Bridden said.

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"A visit to this mysterious ocean world can revolutionize what we know about life in the universe.

"This top mission would have been unthinkable even a few years ago, but now we are ready for an amazing flight of Dragonfly."

The drone will have some tough navigation conditions: the surface temperature of Titan is around minus 290F (-179C) and its surface pressure is 50 percent higher than the Earth's.

It has an atmosphere based on nitrogen, but clouds and methane rain, while other organic substances in the atmosphere fall like light snow.

Dragonfly was selected as part of NASA's New Boundary Program, which includes the Nova Horizons mission to Pluto and the Kuiper Belt, Juno to Jupiter and OSIRIS-Rex to the asteroid Bennu.

They lead the lead researcher Elizabeth Thurl, who is based at the John F. Hopkins University's Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland.

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