WASHINGTON — NASA has delayed the launch of a mission to Saturn’s moon Titan by a yr, citing funds challenges created by the coronavirus pandemic.
In a Sept. 25 assertion, NASA mentioned the Dragonfly mission, which had been scheduled to launch in 2026, will as an alternative launch in 2027. The change in launch date is not going to in any other case have an effect on the design of the mission or the science it’ll carry out.
NASA chosen Dragonfly in June 2019 as the following mission in its New Frontiers program of medium-sized planetary science missions. Dragonfly will land on Titan, Saturn’s largest moon with a dense environment, then use a set of rotors, like a drone, to fly from one location to a different throughout its floor.
Within the assertion, NASA mentioned the choice to push again the launch a yr “relies on components exterior to the Dragonfly undertaking workforce, together with COVID-19’s affect on the Planetary Science Division’s funds.” The company didn’t state what that delay would do to spending for the mission in fiscal yr 2021, for which NASA initially requested $95.eight million, or the general mission price, which is capped beneath the New Frontiers program at $850 million, not together with launch and operations.
“NASA has the utmost confidence within the Dragonfly workforce to ship a profitable mission that conducts compelling science,” Lori Glaze, director of NASA’s planetary science division, mentioned in that assertion.
NASA officers had warned that efforts to deal with the consequences of the pandemic would have prices to its science packages that will have to be accommodated by some means by the company. NASA will permit scientists to use for augmentations for current awards, with a precedence to help college students and early-career professionals. There have additionally been prices for missions that needed to simply work plans due to the pandemic.
There was no signal, although, that Dragonfly was at risk of a delay due to these points. At a Sept. 2 assembly of the Outer Planets Evaluation Group, Elizabeth “Zibi” Turtle, principal investigator for the mission on the Johns Hopkins College Utilized Physics Lab, mentioned early design and testing work on the mission continued regardless of a shift to largely digital work attributable to the pandemic.
“We’re on observe and making good progress regardless of the restrictions within the work atmosphere proper now,” she mentioned. Design work and mission planning actions continued on-line whereas some testing, with COVID-19 security protocols in place, continued in labs. However, she famous, “we’re monitoring the impacts as a consequence of COVID on features of the schedule.”
Dragonfly’s launch had beforehand slipped a yr. When NASA chosen the mission, it determined to shift the launch from its proposed date of 2025 to 2026 to be able to give the mission extra time to deal with technical points. That delay didn’t have an effect on the mission’s arrival at Titan in 2034 due to modifications within the trajectory. NASA didn’t state when Dragonfly will arrive at Titan with the brand new 2027 launch date.