Dragonfly Student and Early Career Investigator Program, Cohort #2: Modeling Titan’s Atmosphere to Support Dragonfly Aerial Operations

SES - Space Exploration Sector

MENTORS: Dr. Scot Rafkin, Southwest Research Institute (Boulder, CO) & Dr. Claire Newman, Aeolis Research Corporation (Cornwall, UK)

BACKGROUND: The entry vehicle carrying the Dragonfly rotorcraft will enter Titan’s atmosphere travelling at thousands of meters per second. Atmospheric friction and then parachutes will slow it to the point where the rotorcraft can be safely released, a little over 1 km above the surface.  The rotorcraft will then fly and land gently on the surface to begin its science investigation.  Periodically, the Dragonfly rotorcraft will conduct flight to a new landing site and/or to perform reconnaissance of a new site. All of these aerial activities necessitate knowledge of atmospheric conditions—a weather prediction. Due to limited observational data, numerical models that simulate Titan’s weather and climate are an important tool for obtaining this much-needed information.

DESCRIPTION: This project is one of a set of three projects for the Dragonfly Student and Early Career Investigator Program Cohort #2. One applicant will be selected for each project for a 2-year position spending 30% time annually on the project and attending Dragonfly team meetings, to be completed while pursuing a graduate degree in a STEM field at a U.S. college or university. This program targets student investigators who would not otherwise have opportunities to participate in a flight planetary science mission. More information on the program can be found on the Dragonfly web site at https://dragonfly.jhuapl.edu/Student-Opportunities/.

Climate and numerical weather prediction models that simulate the atmosphere of Earth have been adapted to Titan. This project focuses on configuring, running, and analyzing the output from these complex Titan atmospheric models to obtain predictions of Titan’s atmosphere under scenarios that are most relevant to Dragonfly operations. Atmospheric modeling of turbulence, circulations over craters and over dune fields, and atmospheric wave activity are all possible modeling topics. 

TASKS: The successful student candidate will undertake the following tasks using one or more models:

  1. Learn the general code structure (FORTRAN) and major computational procedures upon which atmospheric models are constructed.
  2. Configure the models and make minor code modifications to generate customized simulation scenarios.
  3. Compile and run the modeling code(s) in a highly parallelized computational Linux environment.
  4. Assist in the analysis of large model output data sets using existing graphical software tools and develop new analysis routines.
  5. Assist with the communication of results to the Dragonfly team and the larger scientific community in the form of written publications and oral presentations. 

OUTCOME: The project will serve the dual purpose of providing the needed environmental information to the Dragonfly engineering team while advancing the broader scientific community’s knowledge about the structure and dynamics of Titan’s atmosphere. Engineering results are expected to be communicated in the form of presentations and technical reports.  Scientific results are expected to be communicated in the form of peer-reviewed publications.





Academic Discipline Desired: 

STEM field


Required Skills:

Demonstrated and strong programming experience in FORTRAN90, C/C++, and/or Python within the Linux O/S environment.  Experience with data analysis and graphical software such as MATLAB, IDL, or Python plotting packages. B.S. in physical sciences with course work in calculus-based physics. Strong written and verbal communication, the ability to work as part of a team, and fascination with weather and/or planetary science is essential. Applicants must be U.S. citizens.


Desired Skills:

Experience or coursework in computational science or numerical methods. 







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