NASA’s Nuclear Drone Will Search For Life on Titan

NASA’s Nuclear Drone Will Search For Life on Titan


Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, is thought
to have seas of methane with a landscape and atmosphere functioning much similar to our
own. Which is why NASA is developing a nuclear-powered
rotorcraft-lander, deemed Dragonfly, to send to Titan’s surface. This car-sized drone will investigate the
organic-rich terrain like never before, revealing whether or not this moon really is a “primordial
earth”, harboring the very beginnings of life. The reason we know anything at all about the
composition of Titan, is thanks to the European Space Agency’s Huygens probe and NASA’s
Cassini spacecraft. After disembarking from Cassini, the Huygens
probe had a hazardous two and a half-hour descent to the moon’s surface – collecting
data as it went. It was the first time scientists ever landed
on a world in our outer solar system and the details from this mission provided a few insights. Titan has an atmosphere, winds, dry river
beds and lakes, mysterious dunes, a possible subsurface ocean, cryovolcanoes, and, most
excitingly, key ingredients for life, like methane, ethane propylene, nitrogen, and carbon. It was these qualities that propelled the
creation of the Dragonfly mission. Dragonfly is led by a team out of John Hopkins
University, but it was an international collaboration to get the unique duel quadcopter design,
and for good reason. So why is everyone excited about this mission? Well, traditional crafts, such as a lander
or rover, are limited to their immediate location. A rover couldn’t quickly travel vast expanses
and a lander doesn’t move at all. But scientists found that Titan’s cold atmosphere,
and predominantly nitrogen makeup provides a lower molecular viscosity than Earth’s. This, paired with high densities means it’s
much easier to get heavier items off the ground, like a car-sized drone. Plus, decades worth of advancements of autonomous
multirotor technology made a rotorcraft a perfect deep space candidate. Scientists estimate Dragonfly will fly or
“hop” from one location to the next faster than any Mars rover has driven in a decade. Over the course of two years, Dragonfly will
have accumulated over a hundred and seventy kilometers of groundwork, and it’s prepared
to do so, with a robust suite of instruments. Looking under the hood, the drone will be
equipped with a Multi-Mission Radioisotope Thermoelectric Generator, better known as
its nuclear power. This same system has been used before to power
the Mars Curiosity rover. MMRTG’s work by converting heat from the
natural decay of radioisotope materials, in this case plutonium-238. It then uses solid-state thermocouples to
convert the heat energy from that decay into electricity. What makes this latest engineering design
special is that it generates smaller increments of electricity, about 110 watts at launch,
which will help prolong its lifetime in space. Plus, the MMRTG will power a battery that
is roughly a quarter of the size of those found in a Tesla electric vehicles. And Dragonfly’s innovations don’t stop
there. The rest of the craft will be composed of
highly-specialized instruments that will be used to explore the complex terrain on Titan. These will include, geophysical and meteorological
sensors, cameras to look ahead at horizons and pointed below to look at dunes. And when
it lands, Dragonfly will have an underbelly instrument that will fire neutrons at the
surface and and look for any gamma rays released to determine terrain types, like ammonia-rich
ice or carbon-rich sand dunes. With all that’s ahead, it’s almost no
surprise that the Dragonfly team won NASA’s competition, the New Frontiers Program. Previous winners of this program include innovations
like OSIRIS-REx, JUNO, and the New Horizons spacecraft. NASA considers this competition to represent
a critical step in the advancement of solar system exploration. Dragonfly plans to launch in 2026 and arrive
at Titan in 2034, and once it does, we’ll be one step closer to answering the questions
to if life is only unique to our planet. If you haven’t already noticed, Seeker’s
Countdown to Launch series has gotten a facelift! And that’s because we’re committed to
bringing you more launch coverage than ever before. And with all the exciting missions we’ve
done in the past and have planned for the future, we want to know which ones do you
want to hear about? Let us know in the comments below. Also, check out our CTL playlist that features
stories on the latest launches from SpaceX and ISRO. Don’t forget to subscribe so you never miss
an episode. Thanks for watching and we’ll see you next
time on Seeker.

100 comments / Add your comment below

  1. Hi, thanks for watching! To watch more Countdown to Launch check out our playlist here: http://bit.ly/CTLplaylist and be sure to let us know what you want us to cover next in the comments!

  2. I'd find it funny if dragonfly got overtaken by a SpaceX Spaceship and people would already be playing with drones on Titan by the time it got there! Haha!

  3. The answer if we are the only ones alive in the universe is already answered, if universe is infinite that means there are infinite possibilities of other planets with life, it’s selfish and ignorant to think that we are the only ones

  4. I am a fan of science and drones. But we find a primordial earth like planet and our first instinct is, let's first drop some electronic waist on it. And as a bis nummer dump some radioactive waist. Haven't we ruined our own planet enough. What's the plan after the tech has done it's job. Please take that in consideration and learn of our current mistakes. If Titan starts to become interesting to all space capable nations and we just start chucking all kind of technologies over there without concidering the waist we leave behind. Well I do not see that as a good start for mankind. Science is very exciting but please think of the children.!

  5. This is awesome! But whyyy do all these amazing missions have 7+ year deadlines?! We went from basic rocket tech to humans on the moon in 7 years in the 60s.
    Our timelines currently are rookie timelines. Let's launch this stuff up there NOW.

  6. We need an official way to pronounce "Huygens." I like her take; but I have also heard about 15 other ways. Okay, sorry … you may continue …

  7. There is one thing worse than a "talking head"… a "talking torso". I know it is difficult to fill a video with informative hand and head movements… so maybe avoid it altogether?

  8. It sucks that climate scientists have ruined the legacy and credibility of nasa. Cool stuff. Bet it pissed those climate scientists off to see this get funded.

  9. I love how we would not want extraterrestrials on earth, but do try to discover their own planets. That is like Trump saying that he doesn't want any Mexicans in the United States, but sending 500 Navy SEALs to Mexico.

  10. I think we should bring microbes and bacteria to these places in order to start terraforming process and spread earths biosphere in our solar system.

  11. Why do none of these missions ever fly with a microscope? They always talk about detecting signs of life but you would think the easiest would just be to have a look and see if you can see anything.

  12. eh !
    Nasa is freak to never contaminate other worldly body by sterilizing everything before sending it to space…
    Nasa sends a nuclear drone that will end-up creating nuclear contamination on part of a planet !
    LOL

  13. with what i said just below i like cosmology and i am a thinker about life here or elsewhere in the universe as a field of GODS our part of it is the milky way so read carefully my previous comment and read with an opened mind if you like thumb me up like..

  14. Ya that’s great and all, BUT how is it not going to fail when a simple command will take a couple of hours to reach it. If one wind storm appears, then it’s pretty much dead. It need an auto pilot

  15. it’s like a bad sci fi movie. Send a nuclear powered drone to another planet. Something goes wrong and we contaminate other planet with radiation from said nuclear power. How laughably irresponsible! How funny stupid humans!!

  16. One of Biggest scam on earth is nasa. The atheist bullshitters

    You clowns can travel to end of universe on pc lol

    Stop lying you pathetic monkeys

  17. Let's just keep making nukes and giving everyone cancer when the reactor blows. Russia can't do it all by themselves.

  18. Hahahahaha but health-care for actually existing living beeing … nah

    🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤣🤫🤫🤫🤫🤫🤫💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀💀👿👿👿👿👿👿👿👿👿👿👿 (((you))) deserve what's going to happen to (((you)))

    P.s. : these animation is shit !

    And
    …. van ALLEN! No, reality dismiss you just like that !

  19. Why oh why don't these people use some brain cells…why do they insist on sending one small craft when they can launch several such craft into orbit assemble them to make a much larger more capable craft ..wait 2026 and 2034 ? Where is it going that it takes so long ?

  20. Not possible dear , what achieve yet nasa on moon in last 60 years ? Just nothing , if you really want to search any civilization on other planet than you need change swift the dimensions 1st ,in our dimension you can't see them n yes a advance Alien spaceship which is powered by magnetic n Mercury technology

  21. Sure, a rover can't move as quickly, but I have a feeling that this thing won't even survive a few months, let alone YEARS. Something is going to happen to those blades. Or what if power to 2 blades fails? Can it still take off? I think that it's a cool idea, but I think that we should really stick to wheeled rovers for now. Idk. 😩

  22. Nasa is gonna find that there is life on the planet and one of them is a little purple dood who thinks the world will end

  23. We are slowly becoming the aliens. Think about once we find life. Imagine being some animal on another planet, munching on some purple grass, and boom! A quad copter drone is just hovering above you making weird noises 😂

  24. NASA: *sends nuke to Titan
    Thanos: "I'll tell you now, what I'm about to do to your stubborn, annoying little planet… I'm gonna enjoy it. Very, very much."

    NASA: "Now this is an Avenger level threat."

  25. Edit cassini is not the first probe to soft land On another moon or planet and send back images to earth.

    The worlds first probe that soft landed on surface of any planet was the venera 7(1970's) of soviet union. It returned back images of venus surface.

  26. There are kids who are not born yet who will be in high school when this happens. I get it but I'm not happy about it.

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