PSI On Two Missions Receiving NASA Concept Development Funding

Dragonfly is a dual-quadcopter lander that would take advantage of the environment on Titan to fly to multiple locations, some hundreds of miles apart, to sample materials and determine surface composition to investigate Titan’s organic chemistry and habitability, monitor atmospheric and surface conditions, image landforms to investigate geological processes, and perform seismic studies. Credit: NASA

Planetary Science Institute scientists are involved in both missions selected by NASA to receive concept development funding to robotically explore the Solar System.

Missions selected were Comet Astrobiology Exploration Sample Return (CAESAR), a mission to return a sample from the nucleus of comet 67P/Churyumov-Gerasimenko, and Dragonfly, a drone-like rotorcraft lander that would explore the prebiotic chemistry and habitability of dozens of sites on Saturn’s moon Titan.

One of the missions will be selected in 2019 for flight, with launch expected to be in the mid-2020s.

PSI Senior Scientists Robert Gaskell and Eric Palmer will be Co-Investigators on CAESAR. They will be responsible for providing shape models of the comet for the mission’s navigation team. The CAESAR sample will reveal how these materials contributed to the early Earth, including the origins of the Earth’s oceans, and of life.

CAESAR (Comet Astrobiology Exploration SAmple Return) mission will acquire a sample from the nucleus of comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko, returning it safely to Earth. Comets are made up of materials from ancient stars, interstellar clouds, and the birth of our Solar System. The CAESAR sample will reveal how these materials contributed to the early Earth, including the origins of the Earth’s oceans, and of life. Credit: NASA

PSI Senior Scientists R. Aileen Yingst and Research Scientist Catherine Neish will be Co-Investigators on the Dragonfly mission that will sample materials and determine surface composition to investigate Titan’s organic chemistry and habitability, monitor atmospheric and surface conditions, image landforms to investigate geological processes, and perform seismic studies. Neish will study Titan’s geology, with a particular focus on impact cratering, volcanism, and aqueous surface chemistry. Yingst will research what geologic processes have been – and currently are – active on Titan.

Elizabeth Turtle, lead investigator on Dragonfly, worked at PSI from 2002-2006 and is now at Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory. 

The CAESAR and Dragonfly missions will receive NASA funding through the end of 2018 to further develop and mature their concepts. The selected mission will be the fourth in NASA’s New Frontiers portfolio, a series planetary science investigations that fall under a development cost cap of approximately $850 million.