Cassini-Huygens speeds up towards Earth, Saturn
12 August 1999The Cassini-Huygens spacecraft today successfully performed a final adjustment to its trajectory and is on course for a flyby of Earth that will take place on Wedneday, 18 August at 5:28 CEST (03:28 Universal Time).
The spacecraft, launched on a mission to Saturn in 1997, is now precisely set to make its closest approach to Earth at an altitude of 1166 kilometres over the eastern South Pacific. Cassini-Huygens may be visible from small islands in that area, such as Pitcairn Island or Easter Island.
Two successful flybys of Venus, next week's flyby of Earth, and a flyby of Jupiter in December 2000 all give Cassini-Huygens the additional speed it needs to reach Saturn in 2004.
The spacecraft's onboard rocket fired as scheduled on 11 August at 17:30 (15:30 Universal Time) for 130 seconds, completing the final correction to the spacecraft's flight path before the upcoming Earth flyby.
Nine of Cassini's 12 scientific instruments will make observations of the Earth-Moon system during the spacecraft's passage, including studies of Earth's magnetic environment and images of the moon. Cassini-Huygens' primary mission is to make up-close studies of Saturn, its rings, moons and magnetic environment while orbiting the ringed planet from 2004-2008.
Upon arrival at Saturn in 2004, Cassini will release the Huygens landing probe, provided by the European Space Agency, to drop by parachute to the surface of Saturn's big moon, Titan, which is thought to resemble a frozen, primordial Earth.
On 11 August, Cassini was about 9 million kilometres from Earth, travelling at a speed of about 58 000 kilometres per hour relative to Earth. It has travelled 1671 billion kilometres since launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on 15 October, 1997.
Cassini-Huygens is an international mission of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency.