JET PROPULSION LABORATORY
CASSINI–HUYGENSMISSION TO SATURN
aturn and its mysterious moon Titan are the primarydestinations of the Cassini–Huygens mission, a project developed by the National Aeronautics and Space Admin-istration (NASA), the European Space Agency (ESA), the Italian Space Agency (Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, ASI), and several separate European academic and industrial contributors. The Cassini–Huygens mission is managed for NASA by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of the Califor-nia Institute of Technology. The Cassini spacecraft waslaunched on a Titan IVB/Centaur rocket on October 15,1997, from Cape Canaveral, Florida.
The Cassinispacecraft fires oneof its two redun-dant main enginesfor 94 minutesto slow downenough to becaptured into orbitaround Saturn.
The Cassini–Huygens mission honors two 17th-century as-tronomers who pioneered observations of Saturn: Jean-Dominique Cassini, who discovered several satellites aswell as ring features such as the Cassini division, andChristiaan Huygens, who discovered the planet’s largestsatellite, Titan. The Cassini mission’s objective is a four-year, close-up study of the Saturnian system, includingSaturn’s atmosphere and magnetic environment, its rings,several moons, and Titan. The mission represents a rareopportunity to gain significant insights into major scientificquestions about the creation of the solar system and pre-life conditions on Earth, in addition to a host of questionsspecific to Saturn.
MYSTERIES OF SATURN AND TITAN
Saturn, its rings, and its moons hold clues to understand-ing the origins of our solar system. A detailed study of therings and icy satellites may reveal information about thematerial from which Saturn formed and evolved. Saturn’satmosphere shows fewer features than that of Jupiter, per-haps due to more vigorous mixing of various constituentsand the fact that temperatures necessary for cloud con-densation occur deeper in the atmosphere. Saturn’s atmo-spheric phenomena also include jet streams that areamong the fastest in the solar system.Titan, Saturn’s largest moon, also holds its own uniquemysteries. What goes on beneath Titan’s organically rich,primordial Earth–like atmosphere? Voyager spacecraft dataand Earth-based radar and infrared observations suggestthat there may be continents as well as oceans or lakes ofliquid ethane on Titan. What planetary processes mightbe occurring in such a cold environment, where waterice is so cold that it is as hard as rock? These are amongthe questions Cassini and its Huygens Titan probe will ad-dress during the mission.
THE PATH TO SATURN
To accomplish Cassini’s objectives, the NASA-providedorbiter and ESA-provided probe carry sophisticated instru-mentation, for a total of 27 scientific investigations. Fund-ing is provided by NASA and its international partnersfrom Europe. The mission will produce the most completeinformation about a planetary system ever obtained.Cassini executes two gravity-assist flybys of Venus — onein April1998 and one in June 1999 — then a flyby ofEarth in August1999 and a flyby of Jupiter in Decem-ber2000. Cassini’s Sun-relative velocity will increase as itswings around each planet, allowing the spacecraft to