Happy Birthday Cassini/Huygens!
12 October 1998One year on from its launch on 15 October 1997, Cassini/Huygens continues on its seven-year journey to Saturn and Titan. NASA reports that Cassini is in excellent health; meanwhile ESA's Huygens Probe sleeps on until woken for its next checkout on 22 December.
Although Cassini/Huygens has already travelled 975 million kilometres, on the first anniversary of the launch it is actually only 181 million km from Earth, as it loops around the Sun. It is currently travelling outwards from Venus, at a speed of 72 528 km/h. On 3 December a motor burn will send it back towards Venus for its second flyby, swinging by the Earth three months later. These flybys, or gravity-assist manoeuvres, are performed in order to gain enough momentum to reach Saturn.
After a fourth gravity-assist manoeuvre at Jupiter in December 2000. Cassini/Huygens will finally reach Saturn in July 2004. At last, on 6 November 2004, for the teams involved in the ESA Huygens mission, the gestation period will finally be over. Huygens will separate from the Orbiter and, three weeks later, begin its parachute descent to the mysterious surface of Titan.
Cassini/Huygens is a joint NASA/ESA mission, with NASA supplying the Cassini Orbiter and ESA contributing the Huygens probe.