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Space research mission sent to the Saturnian system / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

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Cassini–Huygens (/kəˈsni ˈhɔɪɡənz/ kə-SEE-nee HOY-gənz), commonly called Cassini, was a space-research mission by NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian Space Agency (ASI) to send a space probe to study the planet Saturn and its system, including its rings and natural satellites. The Flagship-class robotic spacecraft comprised both NASA's Cassini space probe and ESA's Huygens lander, which landed on Saturn's largest moon, Titan.[8] Cassini was the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter its orbit, where it stayed from 2004 to 2017. The two craft took their names from the astronomers Giovanni Cassini and Christiaan Huygens.

Quick facts: Mission type, Operator, COSPAR ID, SATCAT no....
Artist's concept of Cassini's orbit insertion around Saturn
Mission typeCassini: Saturn orbiter
Huygens: Titan lander
OperatorCassini: NASA / JPL
Huygens: ESA / ASI
COSPAR ID1997-061A OOjs_UI_icon_edit-ltr-progressive.svg
SATCAT no.25008
Mission duration
  • Overall:
    •  19 years, 335 days
    •  13 years, 76 days at Saturn
  • En route:
    •  6 years, 261 days
  • Prime mission:
    •  3 years
  • Extended missions:
    •  Equinox: 2 years, 62 days
    •  Solstice: 6 years, 205 days
    •  Finale: 4 months, 24 days
Spacecraft properties
ManufacturerCassini: Jet Propulsion Laboratory
Huygens: Thales Alenia Space (then Aerospatiale)[1]
Launch mass5,712 kg (12,593 lb)[2][3]
Dry mass2,523 kg (5,562 lb)[2]
Power~885 watts (BOL)[2]
~670 watts (2010)[4]
~663 watts (EOM/2017)[2]
Start of mission
Launch dateOctober 15, 1997, 08:43:00 (1997-10-15UTC08:43) UTC
Rocket Titan IV(401)B B-33
Launch siteCape Canaveral SLC-40
End of mission
DisposalControlled entry into Saturn[5][6]
Last contactSeptember 15, 2017
  • 11:55:39 UTC X-band telemetry
  • 11:55:46 UTC S-band radio science[7]
Orbital parameters
Reference systemKronocentric
Flyby of Venus (Gravity assist)
Closest approachApril 26, 1998
Distance283 km (176 mi)
Flyby of Venus (Gravity assist)
Closest approachJune 24, 1999
Distance623 km (387 mi)
Flyby of Earth-Moon system (Gravity assist)
Closest approachAugust 18, 1999, 03:28 UTC
Distance1,171 km (728 mi)
Flyby of 2685 Masursky (Incidental)
Closest approachJanuary 23, 2000
Distance1,600,000 km (990,000 mi)
Flyby of Jupiter (Gravity assist)
Closest approachDecember 30, 2000
Distance9,852,924 km (6,122,323 mi)
Saturn orbiter
Orbital insertionJuly 1, 2004, 02:48 UTC
Titan lander
Spacecraft componentHuygens
Landing dateJanuary 14, 2005

Launched aboard a Titan IVB/Centaur on October 15, 1997, Cassini was active in space for nearly 20 years, with 13 years spent orbiting Saturn and studying the planet and its system after entering orbit on July 1, 2004.[9] The voyage to Saturn included flybys of Venus (April 1998 and July 1999), Earth (August 1999), the asteroid 2685 Masursky, and Jupiter (December 2000). The mission ended on September 15, 2017, when Cassini's trajectory took it into Saturn's upper atmosphere and it burned up[10][11] in order to prevent any risk of contaminating Saturn's moons, which might have offered habitable environments to stowaway terrestrial microbes on the spacecraft.[12][13] The mission was successful beyond expectations – NASA's Planetary Science Division Director, Jim Green, described Cassini-Huygens as a "mission of firsts"[14] that has revolutionized human understanding of the Saturn system, including its moons and rings, and our understanding of where life might be found in the Solar System.[15]

Cassini's planners originally scheduled a mission of four years, from June 2004 to May 2008. The mission was extended for another two years until September 2010, branded the Cassini Equinox Mission. The mission was extended a second and final time with the Cassini Solstice Mission, lasting another seven years until September 15, 2017, on which date Cassini was de-orbited to burn up in Saturn's upper atmosphere.[16]

The Huygens module traveled with Cassini until its separation from the probe on December 25, 2004; Huygens landed by parachute on Titan on January 14, 2005. The separation was facilitated by the SED (Spin/Eject device), which provided a relative separation speed of 0.35 metres per second (1.1 ft/s) and a spin rate of 7.5 rpm.[17] It returned data to Earth for around 90 minutes, using the orbiter as a relay. This was the first landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar System and the first landing on a moon other than Earth's Moon.

At the end of its mission, the Cassini spacecraft executed its "Grand Finale": a number of risky passes through the gaps between Saturn and its inner rings.[5][6] This phase aimed to maximize Cassini's scientific outcome before the spacecraft was intentionally destroyed[18] to prevent potential contamination of Saturn's moons if Cassini were to unintentionally crash into them when maneuvering the probe was no longer possible due to power loss or other communication issues at the end of its operational lifespan. The atmospheric entry of Cassini ended the mission, but analysis of the returned data will continue for many years.[15]