Dubbed the Titan Aerial Daughtercraft, the 22-pound drone would detach from a balloon or lander to “acquire close-up, high resolution imagery and mapping data of the surface, land at multiple locations to acquire microscopic imagery and samples of solid and liquid material, return the samples to the mothership for analysis, and recharge from an RTG on the mothership to enable multiple sorties.”
Officials believe Titan may hold the key to understanding how life arose on Earth as well as discovering life away from our planet:
“Titan is the richest laboratory in the solar system for studying prebiotic chemistry, which makes studying its chemistry from the surface and in the atmosphere one of the most important objectives in planetary science.”
While this is not the first proposed mission to Titan – the Titan Saturn System Mission was mothballed in 2009 – it would be the first to employ an operational drone.
The announcement has launched a palatable sense of glee within the tech-journalism community. Gizmodo reports, almost giddily: “the cool thing is that these drones will be able to fly back to base, return the samples or data, recharge their battery thanks to the nuclear power generator in the mothership, and take off for another flight.”
RT.com predicts the program “could drastically change the way humans explore space — current rovers on Mars are akin to moving laboratories, but their grounded nature means they can be rather limited when it comes to exploring terrain.” Meanwhile, HuffPo gushes about the project: “[this] is where things get awesome.”
Similarly optimist is Geek.com which reports:
“The potential for discovery and education through a visit to Titan’s surface make such a mission highly desirable and very exciting for everyone involved. For now NASA is just at the planning stage, but if you’ve seen how complex the Curiosity landing was on Mars, this mission by comparison should be a walk in the park if it gets funded.”
Although the Titan mission would be the most ambitious NASA drone project to date, it’s not the first foray into space for UAVs. In 2011, the U.S. Air Force launched the X-37B robotic drone into Earth orbit on a secret mission. The craft, which resembles the space shuttle, returned to Earth in 2012 after a mysterious 469-day mission.
Jason is a longstanding contributor to DroneLife with an avid interest in all things tech. He focuses on anti-drone technologies and the public safety sector; police, fire, and search and rescue.
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