CASSINI-HUYGENS

Discovering Saturn, its rings and satellites

CASSINI-HUYGENS is a joint NASA-ESA-ASI mission (in which space agencies, scientific institutions and industries belonging to 17 countries take part). Its main goal is to explore Saturn and Titan, its biggest satellite. Since July 2004, it has been acquiring data by way of scientific instruments and, in January 2005, the HUYGENS probe descended through Titan's atmosphere to study its features.

Italy, which was at the "heart" of the mission, supplied the main part of the telecom system: high-gain antenna. The Italian scientific contribution to Cassini's probe is very important, in fact the visible channel of VIMS images spectrometer is Italian, as well as the radar radio-frequency units and the radio-science instrument. The latter is able to detect the effect of gravitational waves as well as carry out relativity measures. In fact since the cruise phase, in September 2003, the magazine "Nature" published the results of a measure carried out by Italian researchers using this instrument that obtained a check 50 times more accurate than the previous ones.

 

Furthermore, one instrument onboard the HUYGENS probe was Italian: it was called HASI and its sensors during the successful descent on Titan previously unknown surface, had returned accurate in situ measures of main atmospheric physical characteristics including the temperature at Titan surface of 93.65 ? 0.25 K and a pressure of 1467 ? 15 hPa.

 

To prepare this unique measurement opportunity ASI, from the ASI Base of Trapani-Milo, carried on a series of preparatory experiments on stratospheric balloons that simulated the fall in the atmosphere of Titan was launched. Cassini-Huygens mission has now passed the halfway of its nominal mission at Saturn and it has been confirmed for two more year of extended mission. Huygens Probe has successfully accomplished its mission on January 14th, 2005, with a perfect performance of all the instruments. Hundreds of the discoveries on Saturn atmosphere, rings and the other moons has been acquired it's worth to mention that, so far, the Cassini spacecraft had 29 Titan fly-bys and the Titan Radar Mapper has imaged about 14% of Titan's surface at a resolution of ~0.5 km while VIMS is providing spectral images of the entire satellite atmosphere and has also penetrate, in few spectral bands, the dense atmospheric structure and the radioscience experiment is providing measure of the interior structures and dynamical parameters of the satellites.

 

 

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