Space research mission sent to the Saturnian system / From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
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Cassini–Huygens (/kəˈsiːni 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. 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.
|Mission type||Cassini: Saturn orbiter|
Huygens: Titan lander
|Operator||Cassini: NASA / JPL |
Huygens: ESA / ASI
|Manufacturer||Cassini: Jet Propulsion Laboratory |
Huygens: Thales Alenia Space (then Aerospatiale)
|Launch mass||5,712 kg (12,593 lb)|
|Dry mass||2,523 kg (5,562 lb)|
|Power||~885 watts (BOL)|
~670 watts (2010)
~663 watts (EOM/2017)
|Start of mission|
|Launch date||October 15, 1997, 08:43:00 (1997-10-15UTC08:43) UTC|
|Rocket||Titan IV(401)B B-33|
|Launch site||Cape Canaveral SLC-40|
|End of mission|
|Disposal||Controlled entry into Saturn|
|Last contact||September 15, 2017
|Flyby of Venus (Gravity assist)|
|Closest approach||April 26, 1998|
|Distance||283 km (176 mi)|
|Flyby of Venus (Gravity assist)|
|Closest approach||June 24, 1999|
|Distance||623 km (387 mi)|
|Flyby of Earth-Moon system (Gravity assist)|
|Closest approach||August 18, 1999, 03:28 UTC|
|Distance||1,171 km (728 mi)|
|Flyby of 2685 Masursky (Incidental)|
|Closest approach||January 23, 2000|
|Distance||1,600,000 km (990,000 mi)|
|Flyby of Jupiter (Gravity assist)|
|Closest approach||December 30, 2000|
|Distance||9,852,924 km (6,122,323 mi)|
|Orbital insertion||July 1, 2004, 02:48 UTC|
|Landing date||January 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. 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 in order to prevent any risk of contaminating Saturn's moons, which might have offered habitable environments to stowaway terrestrial microbes on the spacecraft. The mission was successful beyond expectations – NASA's Planetary Science Division Director, Jim Green, described Cassini-Huygens as a "mission of firsts" 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.
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.
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. 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. This phase aimed to maximize Cassini's scientific outcome before the spacecraft was intentionally destroyed 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.