Information about CASSINI/HUYGENS

The CASSINI/HUYGENS mission is designed for the delivery of a combined Saturn orbiter (CASSINI - provided by NASA) and Titan atmospheric probe (HUYGENS - provided by ESA) to the Saturnian system. The mission has a total duration of 10.7 years. This includes a 6.7 years flight time to Saturn and a four-year orbital tour of the planet, its rings, satellites and magnetosphere.

The CASSINI mission was launched in October 1997, using the Titan IV/Centaur launch vehicle. The spacecraft was injected into a 6.7-year Venus-Venus-Earth-Jupiter Gravity Assist (VVEJGA) trajectory to Saturn. The spacecraft flew by Venus in April 1998 and June 1999, respectively. Approximately 60 days after the 1999 flyby, the spacecraft flew by Earth with the proper geometry to provide a gravity-assist that sent the spacecraft out towards Jupiter. The Jupiter encounter occurred in December 2000. Upon Saturn arrival in June 2004, the spacecraft conducted science activities prior the to the execution of the Saturn Orbit Insertion (SOI) maneuver. The closest approach altitude during SOI was 0.3 Saturn radii, its closest approach during the entire mission. Approximately 5 months after SOI, the spacecraft executed a maneuver to target the combined orbiter and probe for Titan. The Huygens probe was released from the orbiter 21 to 22 days before the third Titan flyby, and flew directly into Titan's atmosphere. The probe was designed for a parachute controlled descent through the atmosphere of Titan, thereby providing in-situ information about the physical and chemical properties of Titan's atmosphere and surface.

After the Huygens mission the orbiter continues on a tour to the Saturnian system, including multiple close Titan flybys for gravity assist and science acquisition. Targeted and non-targeted flybys of selected icy satellites will also be included to determine icy satellite surface compositions and geologic histories. Near the end of the four-year tour, the orbital inclination will be increased to approximately 85°, to investigate the field, particle and wave environment at high latitudes. High inclinations also permit high-latitude Saturn radio occutaltions, viewing of Saturn polar regions, and more nearly vertical viewing of Saturn's rings. The baseline mission ends in June 2008.

(Reference: Cassini Mission Plan, September 1994, Revision E)

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