Soon We'll See Just What Saturn's Moon Is Hiding
The European Space Agency's Huygens probe successfully detached
from NASA's Cassini orbiter Saturday to begin a three-week journey
to Saturn’s moon Titan. NASA's Deep Space Network tracking
stations in Madrid, Spain and Goldstone, CA, received the signal at
1924 PST. All systems performed as expected and there were no
problems reported with the Cassini spacecraft.
The Huygens probe, built and managed by the European Space
Agency, was bolted to Cassini and has been riding along during the
nearly seven-year journey to Saturn largely in a "sleep" mode.
Huygens will be the first human-made object to explore on-site the
unique environment of Titan, whose chemistry is assumed to be very
similar to that of early Earth before life formed. Huygens will
tell us whether this assumption is correct.
"We wish to congratulate our European partners as their journey
begins and wish them well on their descent to Titan," said Robert
T. Mitchell, Cassini program manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, CA. "We are very excited to see the probe off
and to have accomplished this part of our job. Now we’re
ready to finish our part – receiving and relaying the Huygens
data back to Earth."
"Today’s release is another successful milestone in the
Cassini-Huygens odyssey,” said Dr. David Southwood, director
of science program for the European Space Agency. “This was
an amicable separation after seven years of living together. Our
thanks to our partners at NASA for the lift. Each spacecraft will
now continue on its own but we expect they’ll keep in touch
to complete this amazing mission. Now all our hopes and
expectations are focused on getting the first in-situ data from a
new world we’ve been dreaming of exploring for decades."
The Huygens probe will remain dormant until the onboard timer
wakes it up just before the probe reaches Titan's upper atmosphere
on Jan. 14, 2005. Then it will be begin a dramatic plunge through
Titan's murky atmosphere, tasting its chemical makeup and
composition as it descends to touch down on its surface.
The data gathered during this 2-1/2 hour descent will be
transmitted from the probe to the Cassini orbiter. Afterward,
Cassini will point its antenna to Earth and relay the data through
NASA's Deep Space Network to JPL and on to the European Space
Agency's Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, which
serves as the operations center for the Huygens probe mission. From
this control center, ESA engineers will be tracking the probe and
scientists will be standing by to process the data from the probe's
On Monday, the Cassini orbiter will perform a deflection
maneuver to keep it from following Huygens into Titan's atmosphere.
This maneuver will also establish the required geometry between the
probe and the orbiter for radio communications during the probe