NASA’s Dragonfly mission is advancing to the final mission design and fabrication stage, Phase C, in fiscal year 2024. The mission, aimed at sending a rotorcraft to investigate Saturn’s moon Titan, successfully met all criteria during the Preliminary Design Review earlier this year. Despite the postponement of formal confirmation, which includes total cost and schedule details, until mid-2024, the Dragonfly team has re-planned the mission based on anticipated funding in FY 2024. The revised launch readiness date is estimated for July 2028, with an official assessment scheduled at the Agency Program Management Council in mid-2024.
The Dragonfly team has successfully overcome a number of technical and programmatic challenges in this daring endeavor to gather new science on Titan,” expressed Nicola Fox, associate administrator of NASA’s Science Mission Directorate at NASA headquarters in Washington. She added, “I am proud of this team and their ability to keep all aspects of the mission moving toward confirmation.
Dragonfly is pioneering planetary exploration by utilizing a rotorcraft-lander, marking the first time such a technology will be employed to travel between and sample diverse sites on Titan. The mission’s objectives include characterizing the habitability of Titan’s environment, investigating the progression of prebiotic chemistry in an area where carbon-rich material and liquid water may have mixed over an extended period. Additionally, Dragonfly aims to search for chemical indications of whether water-based or hydrocarbon-based life may have existed on Titan.
Dragonfly, currently undergoing development, is managed by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory in Laurel, Maryland, which serves as the mission manager for NASA. The collaborative initiative includes key partners from various institutions and organizations, such as NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, Lockheed Martin Space, Sikorsky (a Lockheed Martin company), NASA’s Ames Research Center, NASA’s Langley Research Center, Penn State University, Malin Space Science Systems,Honeybee Robotics, NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, CNES (Centre National d’Etudes Spatiales) in France, DLR (German Aerospace Center) in Germany, and JAXA (Japan Aerospace Exploration Agency) in Japan.
Dragonfly is the fourth mission within NASA’s New Frontiers Program and is under the oversight of NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Alabama, within the Science Mission Directorate. This collaborative effort highlights the international and interdisciplinary nature of the mission, bringing together expertise from various institutions and countries to explore Titan.