Long-term monitoring of Titan’s atmosphere and planetary surface requires a robust autonomous vehicle capable of interacting with Titan’s surface and profiling its chemically dynamic atmosphere. Creare proposes the Titan Ringlet, a drone capable of vertical takeoff and landing (VTOL) that can transition to horizontal flight to extend the range beyond that of a multirotor vehicle. VTOL capabilities simplify the interaction of the vehicle with the surface and enable true vertical profiling of the atmosphere, while the ability to transition to horizontal flight increases the spatial range of possible observations. Creare’s Titan Ringlet drone utilizes a novel nonplanar wing geometry and mechanically simple controls without the need or complexity of traditional fixed-wing control surfaces. The drone packs efficiently into an aeroshell for safe entry into the Titan atmosphere and then separates from the aeroshell for a precision vertical landing on the surface. Compared to a pure rotorcraft, the fixed-wing cruise flight of Creare’s drone increases range by three times, increases endurance by two times, and increases altitude by four times. A small variant of the Titan Ringlet can support a larger mobile lander, e.g., the Dragonfly spacecraft, and increase the flight range of the lander threefold by pre-scouting landing sites.
The primary intended application for Creare’s Titan Ringlet drone is to support NASA and its planetary exploration missions. The design resulting from this effort could be adapted to planetary exploration missions to other planetary bodies with an atmosphere. This design can also be adapted for terrestrial applications to help achieve NASA’s Earth observation objectives.
The applications for Creare’s Titan Ringlet drone are broad and far reaching for terrestrial applications. These could include routine commercial services such as drone delivery services, atmospheric profiling, and monitoring and surveillance activities for agriculture and utility companies. Each application would likely entail application-specific requirements and customization of the system.