Subject line: Exploration mission of the Saturn system and its satellite Titan

Responsibility: NASA-ESA-ASI mission

Date of launch: October 15th, 1997

End of mission: September 2017

 

Description

The Cassini-Huygens mission, carried out in cooperation between the NASA, the ESA and the ASI, aimed at studying Saturn and its satellite and ring system, with a specific focus on the satellite Titan. The mission started in October 1997, and after a seven-year journey, the Cassini orbiter (manufactured by the NASA) and the Huygens probe (manufactured by the ESA) reached the Saturn system in July 2004; the Huygens probe successfully landed on Titan’s surface on January 14th, 2005.

The CASSINI mission completed its first cycle of observation of Saturn and its satellite system in June 2008, but it was extended twice, until 2012 and then until 2017. The mission is expected to end in 2017 and is limited only by the need to avoid the potential fall on Titan’s or Encelado’s surface due to Planetary Protection.

 

Scientific goals

The study of Saturn and its system of satellites and rings is a key element to decode some of the primary evolution processes of a planetary system, in particular of the most complex gaseous planet. The Cassini mission, with its scientific instruments, is allowing to increase our knowledge of the composition, structure and physical and dynamic properties of those bodies that constitute the Saturn system.

 

Italian contribution

The ASI is one of the partners of the Cassini mission: based on a cooperation agreement with the NASA, it developed for the mission the high-gain antenna with an integrated low-gain antenna (guaranteeing telecommunication with Earth for the entire duration of the mission), the VIMS spectrometer, the radio science subsystem (RSIS) and the radar, that also uses the high-gain antenna. Furthermore, the ASI developed the HASI instrument for the Huygens probe, which measured the physical properties of the atmosphere and of Titan’s surface.

 

International agreements

Memorandum of Understanding on the cooperation between the NASA and the ASI for the Cassini mission, published in the Official Gazette n.12 of 16-9-1995

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