One of the most exciting missions to explore the Solar System began on 15 October 1997, when an almost seven-metre Titan 4B launcher took off from Cape Canaveral and disappeared into the night skies above Florida, carrying a payload weighing just under five and a half tons. Shortly after, a Centaur upper stage accelerated the spacecraft out of Earth's orbit, sending it on its journey to Saturn, the second-largest planet in the Solar System. Its striking rings and numerous glacial moons make it almost a miniature solar system in its own right.
The successful NASA/ESA mission will come to an end after 20 years on 15 September 2017. Among the principal components of the mission was the Huygens lander by the European Space Agency ESA, which piggybacked on Cassini until its arrival at Saturn, before separating and landing on Titan, Saturn's largest moon, in January 2005.
The German Aerospace Center (DLR) has, and continues to be involved in the Cassini-Huygens mission both scientifically and technically. The DLR Space Administration has been funding the venture on behalf of the German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy (BMWi). Our small series of articles will look back on the mission, its experiments, the scientific concept, its most important findings and the contributions made by DLR and other scientific institutes in Germany.
NASA´s preview from 4 April 2017 of the 'Grande Finale' of Cassini Saturn Mission:
There are a total of 18 scientific instruments on board Cassini-Huygens. One of these is the Cosmic Dust Analyzer (CDA), which analyses ice and dust particles in the Saturnian system. The special thing about this instrument, which is still the only one in the world, is that it can simultaneously determine the electrical charge, speed, direction of flight and mass of individual particles.
Today, thanks to Cassini, we know 62 of Saturn's moons. Maps are important to be able to study them further. The DLR Institute of Planetary Research has produced maps for the seven medium-sized ice moons Mimas, Enceladus, Tethys, Dione, Rhea, Iapetus and Phoebe, based on high-resolution images acquired by the camera on board Cassini.
On 15 October 1997 the Cassini spacecraft took off from Cape Canaveral and embarked on an almost seven-year journey to the Saturn System, atop a Titan 4B rocket. It circled the planet and its numerous glacial moons for almost 13 years, from 2004 to 2017.
The best Cassini-Huygens images of Saturn and its moons.
Cassini, the Saturn orbiter, has witnessed countless fascinating phenomena, transmitting exceptional images and measurements back to Earth – including the intricate structure of Saturn's rings, the fountains of ice shot into space from the surface of Enceladus and rivers and oceans of methane on Titan.
Five years ago, on 14 January 2005, the Huygens probe flew through the atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan and landed gently on the surface, which is at a temperature of minus 180 degrees Celsius. The results of the Huygens landing and the first four years of the Cassini spacecraft's mission to the Saturn system have now been documented in two books in which scientists from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have had significant involvement.
There are more and more signs that lakes exist on Saturn's moon Titan, filled with liquid hydrocarbons. Scientists from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) have made another important discovery. With a spectrometer onboard the planetary space probe Cassini, they found glints that have their origin in reflections of the Sun’s radiation from the surface of a large lake near Titan's North Pole.