Cassini Mission Status Report
NASA's Cassini spacecraft successfully flew by Saturn's moon Titan
at a distance of 2,402 kilometers (1,493 miles) on Thursday, March
31. Cassini's multiple instruments are providing new views of the
Image right: This view of Titan from the March 31 flyby uncovers new territory not previously seen at this resolution by Cassini's cameras. Image credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute.
+ Full image and caption.
On this recent flyby, Titan's haze was the focus of ultraviolet
observations. By mapping the haze, scientists hope to learn about
particle size and properties. Titan's transient clouds were also
studied during the flyby.
Titan's northern hemisphere was previously imaged with Cassini's
radar instrument in October 2004 and February 2005. This time,
Cassini's optical cameras got their best view of the same area, as
did the visual and infrared mapping spectrometer.
Titan is a prime target of the Cassini-Huygens mission because it
is the only moon in our solar system with a thick, smoggy
atmosphere. Cassini was launched over seven years ago and has
traveled 3.55 billion kilometers (2.2 billion miles).
All 12 of Cassini's instruments have been returning data, including
tantalizing images. Recently, scientists noticed episodic
interferences on the composite infrared spectrometer that were
traced back to the time of orbit insertion. A mirror on the
spectrometer is showing some signs of jitter. The movement may be
associated with the use of the spacecraft reaction wheels, used for
spacecraft pointing control. A motor on one of three sensors on the
magnetospheric imaging instrument and another motor on the plasma
spectrometer are also not working properly. However, a workaround
has been identified for the latter. All three instruments continue
to function, although with some reduced level of science data
"We are working to understand why the instruments are not
performing properly but it is likely to be a few weeks before we
have definitive answers," said Robert T. Mitchell, Cassini program
manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.
"When running a mission for this long, you expect to have a few
glitches. Cassini has been working remarkably well considering the
duration and complexity of the mission."
Cassini's next encounter is with Titan on April 16 at an altitude
of 1,025 kilometers (637 miles). This will be Cassini's closest
flyby of Titan yet.
The latest images from this flyby are available at:
The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the
European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a
division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena,
manages the Cassini mission for NASA's Science Mission Directorate,
Carolina Martinez (818) 354-9382
Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.