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NASA approves plan to send a flying drone to one of Saturn's moons

The drone will travel 108 miles over the surface of the moon, taking samples as it goes

Universal History Archive/Universal Images Group via Getty Images

NASA has approved plans to send a drone to fly hundreds of miles across the surface of Saturn's moon, Titan.

Here's what we know

In a press release from Thursday, NASA said that the "Dragonfly" mission would launch in 2026 and would reach Titan eight years later. Titan's gravity is several times weaker than Earth's but its atmosphere is four times more dense. This makes it an ideal environment to fly a drone. Titan's atmosphere is nitrogen based, like ours, but since it's so far from the sun it has a temperature of around -290 degrees Fahrenheit. For comparison, the coldest temperature ever recorded on Earth -144 degrees in Antarctica. It also has methane rain.

Once on the moon, the probe will have a "2.7-year baseline mission."

The probe will use its eight rotors to move from one location on the moon to another. At first these flights will be short, but eventually it will execute "a longer series of 'leapfrong flights of up to 5 miles (8 kilometers), stopping along the way to take samples from comelling areas with diverse geography." By the end of the mission, the Dragonfly craft will have traveled "more than 108 miles" which NASA said was "nearly double the distance traveled to date by all the Mars rovers combined."

It has instruments that can be used to test the moon's atmosphere and surface, as well as an underground ocean.

"With the Dragonfly mission, NASA will once again do what no one else can do," NASA Administrator Jim Bridenstine said in a statement. "Visiting this mysterious ocean world could revolutionize what we know about life in the universe. This cutting-edge mission would have been unthinkable even just a few years ago, but we're now ready for Dragonfly's amazing flight."

New Dragonfly Mission Flying Landing Sequence Animation youtu.be

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