The Dragonfly mission, which will launch in 2026 and land in 2034, will send a rotorcraft to fly to dozens of locations across the icy moon, which has a substantial atmosphere and is viewed by scientists as an equivalent of very early-era Earth.
According to the NASA official, Titan, the largest of Saturn's 62 moons, is "unlike any other place in our solar system and the most comparable to early Earth", which means studying the moon could provide clues on how life emerged on our planet.
After Dragonfly arrives to the moon via rocket, NASA plans to send the craft to explore dunes and impact craters on Titan, where liquid water and the organic materials necessary to form life will likely be present. "We don't know the steps that were taken on Earth to get from chemistry to biology, but we do know that a lot of that prebiotic chemistry is actually happening on Titan today".
During its 2.7-year mission, Dragonfly will also investigate the moon's atmospheric and surface properties, as well as its subsurface ocean. Dragonfly will be equipped with the tools to scan material samples for evidence of life, either present or past, and NASA isn't sure what it might find.
NASA administrator Jim Bridenstine revealed Thursday that NASA Solar System, the agency's planetary science division, would be expanding the limits of technology and embarking on an endeavor "unthinkable" years ago with its new, moon-based mission "Dragonfly". And in May, the Trump administration urged Congress to kick-start plans to return USA astronauts to the moon in 2024, as part of a mission called "ARTEMIS", and to include an additional $1.6 billion for NASA's budget next year.
Dragonfly will first land at the "Shangri-La" dune fields, which are similar to the linear dunes found in Namibia in southern Africa.
"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 mission to Saturn's satellite is part of NASA's "New Frontiers" program, which supports scientific missions that have been identified as priorities within the solar system.
Titan is larger than Mercury, the planet that's closest to the sun in our solar system.
Like Earth, Titan has a nitrogen-based atmosphere. Unlike Earth, Titan has clouds and rain of methane. As it orbits Saturn, it is about 886 million miles (1.4 billion kilometers) away from the Sun, about 10 times farther than Earth.
This will be the first time NASA will fly a multi-rotor vehicle on another world.