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NASA Facts a Big Boost for Cassini

NASA Facts a Big Boost for Cassini

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Published by Bob Andrepont
NASA Fact booklet on Titan IVB/Centaur launch vehicle used for Cassini.
NASA Fact booklet on Titan IVB/Centaur launch vehicle used for Cassini.

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Published by: Bob Andrepont on Jan 11, 2011
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National Aeronautics andSpace Administration
Glenn Research Center
Cleveland, Ohio 44135-3191
NASA Glenn Efforts Launch Cassini Toward Saturn
 A Big Boost for Cassini
Liftoff! On Wednesday, October 15, 1997,at 4:43 a.m. EDT, a Titan IV–B launchvehicle with a Centaur high-energy upperstage
lifted the Cassini spacecraft intoEarth orbit and then sent it on the first legof its 7-year journey to Saturn. Repeatingthe picture-perfect performance of so manyother Centaur missions, the Titan IV–Binserted Cassini onto its trans-Venustrajectory with the expected high precisiongenerally associated with America's mostpowerful upper stage.
The NASA GlennResearch Center was responsible forproviding this launch service in closecooperation with the U.S. Air Force(USAF), which manages the Titan IV–Bprogram, and the NASA Jet PropulsionLaboratory, which manages the spacecraftand the overall Cassini mission.Unlike the almost routine launches of communications satellites and the shuttles,this launch was complicated by (1) thegreat distance that Cassini will travel toreach Saturn (3.2 billion kilometers, or2 billion miles), (2) the spacecraft’s greatcomplexity and size (as tall as a two-storybuilding and heavier than a large Africanelephant), and (3) the special measures thatwere necessary to safeguard its interplan-etary power source. To lift this heavypayload, the launch team used the TitanIV–B, the Nation’s largest, most power-ful, and newest heavy-lift expendablelaunch vehicle. This mammoth rocket is as
U.S. Air Force Titan IV–B33 launches the Cassini spacecraft onOctober 15, 1997.
Titan IV payload fairing in NASA Glenn’s Space Power Facility, located at Plum Brook Station in Sandusky, Ohio.
tall as a 20-story building and, with the solid rocketboosters and fuel, weighs about 940,000 kilograms(2 million pounds).This complex mission was taken on by a talented teamof scientists, engineers, technicians, and other person-nel from Cassini’s government, international, andindustry partners. NASA is ultimately responsible forCassini’s success, including the launch service. NASAGlenn was responsible for integrating the spacecraftwith the launch vehicle and designing the mission-unique hardware and software modifications necessaryfor that integration. To support these tasks, Glenncontracted with the Lockheed Martin Corporation.Under a memorandum of agreement with NASA, theUSAF procured the basic launch vehicle and launchoperations. They selected Lockheed Martin as theprime contractor for the Titan IV–B program and itsCentaur upper stage.
Preparing for Launch
NASA Glenn’s involvement began 8 years before thelaunch. In 1990, Glenn was involved in the jettisontesting of the Titan IV payload fairing. This was acooperative effort of the USAF, the Martin MariettaCompany (now Lockheed Martin Corporation), andNASA. The Titan IV's 86-ft-tall, 16-ft-diameterfairing, the largest payload fairing ever tested in avacuum chamber, had internal dimensions about thesize of the space shuttle payload bay. To accommo-date the fairing's great size, researchers conducted
the tests at NASA Glenn’s Plum Brook Station inthe Space Power Facility, the world’s largest spaceenvironment simulation chamber.
Launching Cassini
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.
Working Together
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

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