Page 18 - Engineering Penn State Magazine: Fall/Winter 2020
P. 18

Penn State engineers help NASA go to Titan for mission ‘Dragonfly’
by Ashley WennersHerron
Jack Langelaan, an associate professor of aerospace engineering at Penn State, was uncharacteristically animated.
“The Egyptians built the pyramids; medieval Europeans built the cathedrals,” he said, taking a breath and leaning back in his chair. He gestured to his colleagues sitting on either side of him.
“And our society builds space vehicles.”
Sven Schmitz and Jose Palacios, both associate professors of aerospace engineering at Penn State, nodded in agreement.
These three engineers are leading the Penn State team on an $850 million NASA mission spanning at least the next two decades. The Johns Hopkins University Applied
Physics Laboratory (APL) leads the endeavor—dubbed “Dragonfly”— to investigate surface and atmospheric conditions of Saturn’s largest moon, which in many ways appear to be similar to Earth’s primordial state.
In June, NASA announced that Dragonfly would be the fourth mission under its competitive New Frontiers program, which funds projects that shed light on scientific mysteries of the solar system. Dragonfly is scheduled to launch in 2026 and reach the surface of Titan around New Year’s Eve in 2034.
For engineers who built their careers by understanding
how vehicles fly on Earth, the opportunity to develop a vehicle that will explore Titan is almost unbelievable.
Jack Langelaan, Jose Palacios, and Sven Schmitz are posed with the rotor and blade they are testing in a chamber that can reach minus 145° Celsius, only about 50 degrees warmer than the surface of Saturn’s largest moon.

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