The mission operation scenario would have some resemblance to the Cassini-Huygens mission operation scenario while taking advantage of lessons learned to reduce overall mission cost and complexity. During the cruise phase, science and instrument calibration activities would be regularly planned.
Targeting and release of the in situ elements would be the prime responsibility of NASA, in full coordination with ESA. ESA will take over the operations of the in situ elements once they are delivered to Titan. For the entry, descent inflation and initial operation phases, the in situ elements would use the overflying orbiter as a communications relay station.
After inflation and initial operation phase, the Montgolfiere would rely on a combination of high-reliability on-board data recording, regular data relay sessions to the Orbiter and direct-to-Earth tracking, and possibly low data rate direct-to-Earth transmission. The probes/landers would also rely on high-reliability on-board data recording, regular radio relay sessions with the Orbiter, direct-to-Earth tracking and low data rate transmission. While an uplink (telecommand) capability is foreseen for the Montgolfiere, it is not foreseen for the probes/landers. Two uplink designs, either through the orbiter and/or directly from the Earth will be studied.
Mission operations would be coordinated by a mission operation coordination group. Science operations would be under the responsibility of each partner with coordinated operations carried out by a science operations working group. The Orbiter science operations would be based at JPL, Pasadena. The science operations for the in situ elements would be based at ESAC, Spain. Further definition of the mission operations and science operations schemes will result from the assessment studies.
TSSM is being developed as an international collaboration between NASA and ESA. The mission concept is based on the NASA Titan Explorer flagship mission studied in 2007 and the 2007 ESA TandEM mission proposal.
Two Outer Planet Missions are being jointly studied: The Titan/Saturn System Mission (described in this article) and the Europa/Jupiter System Mission (based on the ESA Laplace proposal and on the two NASA 2007 flagship Studies: Europa Explorer and Jupiter System Observer). NASA and ESA, in coordination with their international partners, will jointly down-select one of the two missions in October-November 2008 for implementation starting in 2009.
The mission would address science and technology themes that would be used to develop a comprehensive outreach programme on the exploration of the Outer Planets. Examples include 400 years of discovery of the Galilean satellites, exobiology and extremophiles, celestial mechanics (interplanetary trajectory to Jupiter using gravity assist manoeuvres, Jovian tour), Solar System formation and the key role in understanding the formation of the Giant planets (Jupiter and Saturn in particular) for our understanding how the Solar System formed and now works, the giant planetary systems as natural physics and chemistry laboratories.