Cassini Huygens is an unmanned spacecraft sent to the planet Saturn. It is a Flagship class NASA ESA ASI robotic spacecraft. The Cassini-Huygens mission is a NASA/ESA/ASI mission to explore the Saturnian system. The ESA component consists largely of the Huygens probe, which entered the atmosphere of Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and descended under parachute down to the surface.
Cassini-Huygens Exploring Saturn’s System
The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn since 2004. The mission is known for discoveries such as finding jets of water erupting from Enceladus, and tracking down a few new moons for Saturn. Now low on fuel, the spacecraft will make a suicidal plunge into the ringed planet in 2017 and capture some data about Saturn’s interior on the way.
Launch and cruise
Cassini didn’t head straight to Saturn. Rather, its mission involved complicated orbital mechanics. It went past several planets including Venus , Earth and Jupiter to get a speed boost by taking advantage of each planet’s gravity. NASA responded by issuing a supplementary document about the flyby and detailing the agency’s methodology for protecting the planet, saying there was less than a one-in-a-million chance of an impact occurring. Cassini is the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter orbit, and its mission is ongoing as of 2016. It has studied the planet and its many natural satellites since arriving there in 2004.
The European Space Agency’s Huygens Probe was a unique, advanced spacecraft and a crucial part of the overall Cassini mission to explore Saturn. The probe was about 9 feet wide and weighed roughly 700 pounds. It was built like a shellfish: a hard shell protected it’s delicate interior from high temperatures during the a 2.25 hour descent through the atmosphere of Saturn’s giant moon Titan.
The Cassini program is an international cooperative effort involving NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, as well as several separate European academic and industrial contributors. The Cassini partnership represents an undertaking whose scope and cost would not likely be borne by any single nation, but is made possible through shared investment and participation. Through the mission, about 260 scientists from 17 countries hope to gain a better understanding of Saturn, its stunning rings, its magnetosphere, Titan and its other icy moons.
Extending the mission
Cassini wrapped up its four-year planned mission in June 2008 and then embarked on the Cassini Equinox mission, which went through to September 2010. During those two years, Cassini flew past Titan 26 times and Enceladus seven times. It also zipped by Dione, Rhea and Helene once. Because Cassini arrived at Saturn at the last solstice, NASA says this extension will let scientists study seasonal changes in detail at the ringed planet.