Mission Overview

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Cassini Spacecraft Artist's concept of Cassini spacecraft

Cassini Spacecraft Artist's concept of Cassini spacecraft


The Cassini mission to Saturn is the most ambitious effort in planetary space exploration ever mounted. A joint endeavor of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (known as ASI for its acronym in Italian), Cassini is sending a sophisticated robotic spacecraft to orbit the ringed planet and study the Saturnian system in detail over a four-year period.

Onboard Cassini is a scientific probe called Huygens that was released from the main spacecraft to parachute through the atmosphere to the surface of Saturn's largest and most interesting moon, Titan, which is shrouded by an opaque atmosphere. Titan's atmosphere includes organic compounds leading scientists to believe that the moon may be like a frozen vault of conditions similar to those on Earth before life began. The Cassini orbiter is also using imaging radar to map Titan's surface.

Launched October 15, 1997, on a Titan 4 rocket from Cape Canaveral, Florida, Cassini flew past other planets on its way to Saturn -- once each by Earth and Jupiter, twice by Venus -- to borrow gravitational energy to speed it on its way. Cassini entered Saturn orbit July 1, 2004, and the Huygens probe descended to the surface of Titan on January 14, 2005. In 2008, Cassini began a two-year extended mission.

Mission Details:
Mass: 5,712 kilograms (12,593 pounds), consisting of 2,125-kilogram (4,685-pound) orbiter, 320-kilogram (705-pound) Huygens probe, launch vehicle adapter and 3,132 kilograms (6,905 pounds) of propellants

Science instruments: Orbiter optical camera system, imaging radar, radio science, ion and neutral mass spectrometer, visible and infrared mapping spectrometer, composite infrared spectrometer, cosmic dust analyzer, radio and plasma wave spectrometer, plasma spectrometer, ultraviolet imaging spectrograph, magnetospheric imaging instrument, dual technique magnetometer; Huygens probe descent imager and spectral radiometer, atmospheric structure instrument, gas chromatograph and mass spectrometer, aerosol collector pyrolyzer, surface science package, doppler wind experiment

Fast Facts:
Launch: October 15,1997

Related Links:
+ Cassini home page
+ Cassini fact sheet (PDF)
+ Saturn exploration videos
+ More on Saturn
+ Jupiter Millennium Flyby (Dec. 30, 2000) (Galileo and Cassini)
+ Where is Cassini today?