By giving green signals for further development of two unmanned mission concepts, NASA has planned its next phase of space exploration. The proposed mission of Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return that has been scheduled to launch sometime in mid-2020, has been designed to return back to earth with comet materials, and the Dragonfly dual quadcoptor designed to fly about in the atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.
Both mission will receive additional funding until the end of next year which will surely allow CAESAR’s Cornell University developers and Dragonfly’s John Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) time to improve their concepts. Perhaps being the space agency’s fourth New Frontiers mission, one of two mission will be selected to go forward alongside New Horizons, Juno, and OSIRIS-Rex.
The CAESAR mission is comparatively straightforward as its followup to ESA’s Rosetta mission which paid an extended visit to the comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko from 2014 to 2016, attempted to successfully place a lander on a comet. It would be launched in 2024 or 2025 but rendezvous with comet 67P.
After reaching it would touchdown, collect 100 g of regolith from its surface, separate the volatile compounds from the solids the return the sample to Earth for analysis. It is being expected that comet will show the presence of organic molecules that comets brought to our planet in the distant past and sparked life.
Comparatively Dragonfly is more complicated mission to the Saturnian moon Titan which is the largest moon in Solar System and the only one with an atmosphere. It would be the first flying planetary rover having a dual quadcopter powered by a radiothermal generator (RTG). Like the Curiosity Mars rover, the generator will recharge the flyer while Titan’s eight-day long night.
The purpose of this eight-day long night is to study Titan’s atmosphere and methane oceans with the sample areas tens or even hundreds of KMs apart over two-year period. Shortly the aim is to gain a better understanding of the world chemistry.
“This is a giant leap forward in developing our next bold mission of science discovery,” says Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate. “These are tantalizing investigations that seek to answer some of the biggest questions in our solar system today.”