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BYU Professor On Team Chosen As Finalist For NASA Mission

Johns Hopkins APL/Steve Gribben
A rendering of the Dragonfly rotorcraft lander.

A geology professor from Brigham Young University in Provo is part of a team that NASA might be funding to go to space. Their proposal involves getting a sample of sand from one of Saturn’s moons.

Jani Radebaugh won’t be the one on the rocket, but her team has developed a robot known as “Dragonfly” that could be sent to Titan, Saturn’s largest moon. And their robot really does look like a dragonfly, but instead of wings, it has small helicopter-like propellers.


“What I’m so excited about is this helicopter goes, it lands on the surface, picks up a sample, ingests it and kind of studies it," says Radebaugh.


Radebaugh says all they really need is a fistful of sand to start learning about Titan. A moon they chose because of how similar it is to earth.


“Titan has all of these key ingredients for the start of life and we want to understand what the processes happening on a body like that are and could it help answers questions about our own earth and how life got started here," Radebaugh says.


The Dragonfly was submitted to NASA as part of their New Frontiers program and is now one of two finalists. The team will be funded to develop the project for about another year before a final selection is made.


If they do get the green light, it could still be nearly 20 years before Dragonfly lands on Titan. Radebaugh hopes advancements with companies like SpaceX can help speed that up. But, she’s willing to wait as long as she needs to for that first fistful of sand.



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