NASA tests Dragonfly 8-rotor drone to Titan | Digital trends

Tunnel Visions: Team Dragonfly tests rotorcraft designs at a unique NASA facility

NASA is using what it learned from the ground-breaking Ingenuity Mars helicopter to create an even more sophisticated flying machine to explore Titan, Saturn’s largest moon.

While the Ingenuity has one rotor and is only 19.3 inches tall, the Dragonfly has eight rotors and is the size of a small car.

A team of researchers led by Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) in Maryland has the advantage of Titan’s thick atmosphere, which is easier to fly through than the much thinner atmosphere of Mars. Its low gravity also helps the flying car stay in the air.

In a recent update on the progress of Dragonfly development, NASA’s Patricia Talbert said the mission team regularly visits the space agency’s Langley Research Center in Hampton, Virginia, to test Dragonfly’s flight systems inside the facility, in various wind tunnels, with collected test data. slow Data that helps it refine the aircraft design.

On its latest trip to NASA Langley, the team tested a half-scale Dragonfly while focusing on two specific flight configurations: landing the Dragonfly and transitioning to powered flight after reaching Titan, and forward flight on Above the surface of the moon.

“We tested conditions across the expected flight envelope at a variety of wind speeds, rotor speeds and flight angles to assess the vehicle’s aerodynamic performance,” APL’s Bernadine Giuliano said in a statement. We completed more than 700 runs, containing more than 4,000 individual data points. All experimental objectives were successfully met and the data will help increase confidence in our simulation models on Earth before extrapolating to Titan conditions.

Artist renderings of the Dragonfly rotorcraft lander on the surface of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. NASA / Johns Hopkins APL / Steve Gribben

Dragonfly is NASA’s only mission to the surface of another ocean world. It is expected to reach Titan in 2034 after launching from Earth in 2027. Titan has similarities to the early Earth, and scientists hope that with its array of cameras, sensors and samplers, Dragonfly will be able to make discoveries that will show us how it lived. It may have started on our own planet.

“With Dragonfly, science fiction became exploratory reality,” said Ken Hibbard, Dragonfly mission systems engineer at APL. The mission is coming together piece by piece, and they are excited for each next step to send this revolutionary rotorcraft across the skies and onto the surface of Titan.

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