the tests at NASA Glenn’s Plum Brook Station inthe Space Power Facility, the world’s largest spaceenvironment simulation chamber.
Members of the NASA Glenn team monitoredCassini’s flight from launch through the end of Centaur operations. After ignition, the three Titan IVstages burned; then the Centaur rocket separated fromthe booster vehicle and burned for about 2 minutes to“park” the spacecraft in orbit. After 20 minutes inorbit, the Centaur main engines fired for the last time,launched Cassini out of Earth orbit and onto its initialtrajectory toward Venus, and performed contamina-tion and collision avoidance maneuvers. With thelaunch and separation complete, Cassini began its7-year trip to Saturn, the majority of which will bean unpowered coast through space.But why did Cassini head toward Venus when Saturnis in the opposite direction? Cassini’s trajectoryplanners designed a convoluted path because thereis no launch vehicle powerful enough to send Cassinion a direct path to Saturn. Instead, they planned forCassini to pick up acceleration from the gravity of nearby planets—making two “swingbys” of Venusand one each of Earth and Jupiter before turningtoward Saturn. These “gravity assists” will lendenergy to Cassini, greatly accelerating it.When it finally reaches its destination in 2004,Cassini will go into orbit around Saturn to study itsatmosphere, magnetic fields, rings, and icy moons.The Huygens probe, supplied by the European SpaceAgency (ESA), will scrutinize the clouds, atmos-phere, and surface of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan.Cassini is carrying state-of-the-art science andcommunication equipment, as well as an additionalspecial payload—a compact disk with the digitizedsignatures of about a million school children.
As they prepared for Cassini’s launch, NASA Glennand the USAF drew from their strong workingrelationship, closely coordinating the basic launchvehicle production, definition of launch supportrequirements, and verification that all missionrequirements were met. Glenn participated in allAir Force vehicle production reviews and launchprocessing coordination meetings and reviews.Glenn also participated in the actual launchoperations, including the prelaunch countdown.Independent verification and validation analyses arenormally conducted for Titan IV missions to assuremission success. Coupled loads, spacecraft dynamictesting, software, vehicle guidance and control,mission design, separation dynamics, and flightperformance must all be assessed. Although theseanalyses are normally performed by a subcontractor,NASA Glenn took advantage of the extensiveexperience and specialized expertise available atGlenn by performing these analyses for the Cassinimission as part of its integration responsibility. Thisrole was particularly important because Cassini isthe largest (5712 kilograms, or 12,593 pounds,including its fuel and the Huygens probe) and mostcomplex (sensitive electronic equipment with over14 km, or 8.7 miles, of cables) spacecraft everlaunched on an interplanetary mission.
Deciding When to Launch
NASA Glenn also was involved in determining whento launch Cassini. Every planetary mission has anideal launch day. However, there is never a guaranteethat a launch will be able to take place on the idealday because the weather may be poor or there maybe a problem with the launch vehicle or spacecraft.To increase the chances of being able to launch,NASA scientists and contractors plan a launchperiod, or launch "window," for each mission. Mostplanetary spacecraft, like Cassini, are designed to belaunched within a window of 30 days. For example,Cassini’s launch window, from October 6 throughNovember 4, 1997, was chosen to accommodate thelaunch vehicle’s capabilities as well as missionperformance and operational requirements. If thelaunch window had been extended to November 15,additional propellant would have been needed. Suchan extension proved unnecessary when Cassinisuccessfully began its trek to Saturn on October 15.
Traveling Waves to Better Science
Cassini’s data would be useless without a way tosend it to Earth, and Earth will be over a billionmiles away. To reach across this great distance,Cassini needs a powerful radio link—one that cansend more information home with less distortionand using less energy than previously possible.To meet these goals for Cassini and future