Thu, Jul 01, 2004
Cassini Probe To Make Critical Burn For Orbit Around
Seven years after its launch from Cape Canaveral, the
Cassini-Huygens probe is set to thread the needle -- fire its
rocket for 96 minutes in hopes of sliding into orbit between two of
"Everything appears to be right on track," said Robert Mitchell,
Cassini program manager, in an interview with CNN. "This is not a
slam dunk by any means...(But) confidence in the spacecraft is
If all goes according to plan, Cassini will spend the next four
years exploring the ringed planet and its 31 known moons. In
December, the probe will deploy a lander aimed for Titan, thought
to be rich in energy-producing gases.
"It's going to be the star of the show for the next four years,"
As interesting (and potentially profitable) as Titan might be,
scientists are fascinated by the ammonia-rich atmosphere of Saturn
itself. They're captivated by its lightning storms and its magnetic
Mission scientists were reportedly "holding their breath" for
word that the intra-ring maneuver had been successful. Although
images from the Hubble Space Telescope indicated that the path
chosen for Cassini would be relatively free of dust and ice, there
are concerns about what Hubble might not have seen.
Saturn is approximately 83 light minutes away right now, making
the timing of the command and the resulting burn even more
critical. But Cassini team members say they're relatively
"The spacecraft has performed flawlessly to date and once we see
the signal come back everything will be all right," said spacecraft
engineer Julie Webster. "I have full faith in this spacecraft.
We've performed 17 burns and the burns have all gone
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