A key point in the mission occurred in 2005 when NASA's orbiter Cassini released Europe's Huygens probe into the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan. Huygens parachuted through the moon's thick atmosphere and landed. Photographs and other data returned by the probe gave scientists a far more detailed understanding of this world.
Photo: Artist's impression of the Cassini-Huygens probe (NASA)
An unmanned probe explores Saturn and its moons.
The launch of Cassini was more spectacular than usual for those watching.
The night launch of the space probe Cassini was more spectacular than usual for some of the watching scientists.
The Cassini probe proves that Titan has lakes.
Professor Brian Cox shows how a picture taken by the Cassini spacecraft proves the existence of lakes of liquid on Titan.
Brian Cox visits the Saturn probe's mission control.
Professor Brian Cox visits NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, the control centre for the Cassini mission to Saturn. He learns how Saturn can help us understand the early Solar System.
Enceladus is a curious moon with tiger stripes and ice fountains.
Professor Brian Cox meets Professor Carolyn Porco to find out what the Cassini spacecraft discovered about Saturn's curious moon Enceladus.
Sir Patrick Moore's guests discuss Saturn's magnetic field and storms.
Sir Patrick Moore spoke to his guests, Professor John Zarnecki from the Open University and Professor Michele Dougherty from Imperial College, about Saturn's core, magnetic field and storms shortly after the Cassini-Huygens probe reached the ringed planet in 2004.
Cassini–Huygens is a Flagship-class NASA-ESA-ASI robotic spacecraft sent to the Saturn system. It has studied the planet and its many natural satellites since arriving there in 2004, also observing Jupiter, the Heliosphere, and testing the theory of relativity. Launched in 1997 after nearly two decades of gestation, it includes a Saturn orbiter and an atmospheric probe/lander for the moon Titan called Huygens, which entered and landed on Titan in 2005. Cassini is the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter orbit, and its mission is ongoing as of 2013.
It launched on October 15, 1997 on a Titan IVB/Centaur and entered into orbit around Saturn on July 1, 2004, after an interplanetary voyage which included flybys of Earth, Venus, and Jupiter. On December 25, 2004, Huygens separated from the orbiter at approximately 02:00 UTC. It reached Saturn's moon Titan on January 14, 2005, when it entered Titan's atmosphere and descended to the surface. It successfully returned data to Earth, using the orbiter as a relay. This was the first landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar System.
Sixteen European countries and the United States make up the team responsible for designing, building, flying and collecting data from the Cassini orbiter and Huygens probe. The mission is managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in the United States, where the orbiter was assembled. Huygens was developed by the European Space Research and Technology Centre. The Centre's prime contractor, Aérospatiale of France (now Thales Alenia Space), assembled the probe with equipment and instruments supplied by many European countries (Huygens' batteries and two scientific instruments by the United States). The Italian Space Agency (ASI) provided the Cassini orbiter's high-gain radio antenna, with the incorporation of a low-gain antenna (that ensure telecommunications with the Earth for the entire duration of the mission), a compact and lightweight radar, which also uses the high-gain antenna and serves as a synthetic aperture radar, a radar altimeter, a radiometer, the radio science subsystem (RSS), the visible channel portion VIMS-V of VIMS spectrometer (the VIMS-IR counterpart was provided by NASA, as well as Main Electronic Assembly, which includes electronic subassemblies provided by CNES of France).
On April 16, 2008, NASA announced a two-year extension of the funding for ground operations of this mission, at which point it was renamed to the Cassini Equinox Mission. This was again extended in February 2010 with the Cassini Solstice Mission continuing until 2017. The current end of mission plan is a 2017 controlled fall into Saturn's atmosphere. That same year, 2017, Juno will be de-orbited by a crash into Jupiter.
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