Titan bound Dragonfly rotorcraft concept undergoes flight tests

Test flight of the prototype concept Dragonfly rotorcraft destined for Saturn's moon Titan. Credit: Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory/NASA.

In 2027 NASA will send the unique Dragonfly rotorcraft to Saturn’s moon Titan. Designed specifically for the Titan atmosphere, a concept was tested in September 2021 in the Imperial Dunes of California.

The NASA Dragonfly mission is being led by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and currently has one Canadian co-investigator, Professor Catherine Neish of Western University.

The September 2021 test included nine engineers from the APL who spent three days flying the concept rotorcraft over the dunes “to collect images and sensor data they’ll need to develop optical navigation algorithms for the real Dragonfly.”

APL provided the following updated on the tests.

“Working from sunrise to sunset, the team collected data from numerous flights in a variety of lighting conditions – and captured data critical to developing and testing the navigation algorithms. The natural dunes serve as an analog to the terrain that Dragonfly will encounter on Titan, and the environment is ideal for testing the navigation algorithms that will use camera images to sense the rotorcraft’s position and motion.”

“The Dragonfly team has built two identical, half-scale ‘Integrated Technology Platform’ drones (called ITPs) with hardware and software similar to what will fly on the real thing – including eight independent rotor assemblies, a flight computer and digital image processor, a navigation camera, an inertial measurement unit with comparable gyroscopes and accelerometers, and initial versions of the image processing and flight control algorithms.”

“The ITPs are undergoing a graduated series of flight tests to evaluate their performance. In the past year, the drones have logged over 100 flights at multiple test sites and under varying wind conditions as their configurations have matured in complexity.”

Watch the feature on the Imperial Dunes Dragonfly concept tests

About Marc Boucher

Boucher is an entrepreneur, writer, editor & publisher. He is the founder of SpaceQ Media Inc. and CEO and co-founder of SpaceRef Interactive LLC. Boucher has 20+ years working in various roles in the space industry and a total of 30 years as a technology entrepreneur including creating Maple Square, Canada's first internet directory and search engine.

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