Artist’s concept of Dragonfly on Titan.

The NASA Dragonfly Mission Gets A New Budget Increase

Despite budget constraints NASA confirms the nuclear drone Dragonfly mission to explore Titan, Saturn’s hydrocarbon-rich moon, and study its prebiotic chemistry

In a press release issued on April 16, 2024, NASA stated that the budget increase for the  Dragonfly mission to Titan was approved and the mission was confirmed. Currently, the project is in the final design phase, which will be followed by the construction and testing of the vehicle, aiming to launch in July 2028.

“Dragonfly is a spectacular science mission with broad community interest, and we are excited to take the next steps on this mission. Exploring Titan will push the boundaries of what we can do with rotorcraft outside of Earth.”

— Nicky Fox, NASA Science Mission Directorate associate administrator


The rocky strange new world, full of hydrocarbons

Titan has attracted the curiosity of scientists since its discovery in 1655 by Christiaan Huygens. The two Voyager probes took pictures of this strange world, showing its yellowish and opaque atmosphere. Neither Hubble telescope was able to see through its organic haze.

Finally, in 2004, the Cassini spacecraft approached Titan so closely to map its rocky surface and show the presence of rivers, lakes, and even seas of hydrocarbons. Cassini launched the Huygens probe through Titan’s atmosphere, measuring the winds and the atmosphere and parachuting safely on the surface, documenting the descent in a spectacular video.

Even if the concept of a rotorcraft lander to fly on Titan was proposed already in 2000, the discoveries made by Cassini and Huygens about the presence of organic compounds, water ice, and even an ocean of salty water beneath the surface, made Titan a unique and ideal target for studying prebiotic chemistry and the habitability of an extraterrestrial environment.


A long and winding road for Dragonfly

In June 2019, NASA selected Dragonfly for development, targeting 2027 for the launch date and costing $1 billion. The mission passed the preliminary design review in March 2023, but in the following November NASA decided to postpone the final confirmation of the mission, due to an increase in the mission’s total costs and uncertainty with the agency budget for 2025.

NASA graphic showing Dragonfly mission arriving on Saturn's moon Titan, and flying in its atmosphere.
NASA graphic showing Dragonfly mission arriving on Saturn’s moon Titan and flying in its atmosphere. Credits: NASA

After the release of the president’s 2025 budget request, NASA confirmed the mission with a final cost of more than $3 billion and a new launch date in 2028. The expense increased for several reasons, including the engagement of a heavy-lift launch vehicle to limit the delay and arrive at Titan in 2034.

The nuclear-powered octocopter will undergo the final design in the next months, followed by the construction and testing phase of the vehicle and its scientific instruments.


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Giancarlo Albertinazzi

Giancarlo Albertinazzi

Space Ambassador, Terranaut, Future Spacepolitan, Writer of Becoming Spacepolitans Blog

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