Cassini plasma spectrometer resumes operations

Mar 19, 2012
Artist concept of Cassini spacecraft. Image credit: NASA/JPL

(PhysOrg.com) -- The Cassini plasma spectrometer instrument (CAPS) aboard NASA's Cassini spacecraft at Saturn has resumed operations. Mission managers received confirmation on Friday, March 16, that it was turned on. They plan to monitor the instrument for any unusual behavior.

Last June, short circuits in the instrument led to unexpected voltage shifts on the spacecraft. As a precaution, mission managers turned off the CAPS instrument while engineers investigated the issue. The investigation led to the conclusion that tin plating on electronics components had grown "whiskers."

The whiskers were very small, less than the diameter of a human hair, but they were big enough to contact another conducting surface and carry electrical current. Researchers are still trying to understand why whiskers grow on tin and other metals, but they know now that whiskers can grow in space and on Earth. It is believed that these or additional tin whiskers that may grow on Cassini cannot carry enough current to cause problems, but will burn out on their own like a lightweight fuse.

Cassini launched in 1997 and has been exploring the Saturn system since 2004. The project completed its original prime mission in 2008 and has been extended twice. Cassini is now in its solstice mission, which will enable scientists to observe seasonal change in the Saturn system through the northern summer solstice.

Explore further: An unmanned rocket exploded. So what?

add to favorites email to friend print save as pdf

Related Stories

Journey to Saturn From Your Computer

Feb 01, 2008

Want a peek at Saturn as seen from space? A new interactive 3-D viewer that uses a game engine and allows users to travel to Saturn and see it the way the Cassini spacecraft sees it is now online at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov/multimedia/CASSIE ...

Cassini testing part of its radio system

Jan 13, 2012

Engineers with NASA's Cassini mission are conducting diagnostic testing on a part of the spacecraft's radio system after its signal was not detected on Earth during a tracking pass in late December. The spacecraft ...

The secrets of Saturn's moons

Apr 13, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Saturn's moons have become a source of increasing fascination thanks to a stream of data from the Cassini-Huygens spacecraft.

Engineers assessing Cassini spacecraft

Nov 05, 2010

Engineers at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., are working to understand what caused NASA's Cassini spacecraft to put itself into "safe mode," a precautionary standby mode. Cassini entered ...

Cassini delivers holiday treats from Saturn

Dec 22, 2011

(PhysOrg.com) -- No team of reindeer, but radio signals flying clear across the solar system from NASA’s Cassini spacecraft have delivered a holiday package of glorious images. The pictures, from Cassini’s ...

Recommended for you

An unmanned rocket exploded. So what?

5 minutes ago

Sputnik was launched more than 50 years ago. Since then we have seen missions launched to Mercury, Mars and to all the planets within the solar system. We have sent a dozen men to the moon and many more to ...

NASA image: Sunrise from the International Space Station

55 minutes ago

NASA astronaut Reid Wiseman posted this image of a sunrise, captured from the International Space Station, to social media on Oct. 29, 2014. Wiseman wrote, "Not every day is easy. Yesterday was a tough one. ...

Copernicus operations secured until 2021

1 hour ago

In a landmark agreement for Europe's Copernicus programme, the European Commission and ESA have signed an Agreement of over €3 billion to manage and implement the Copernicus 'space component' between 2014 ...

Steering ESA satellites clear of space debris

1 hour ago

Improved collision warnings for its Earth observation missions means ESA controllers can now take more efficient evasive action when satellites are threatened by space junk.

User comments : 3

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

Tangent2
2 / 5 (4) Mar 19, 2012
"An investigation pointed to "tin whiskers" growing on electronic components as the culprit, causing a short. NASA says these tiny metal filaments can grow in space just like on Earth."

So how did they remove the tin and fixed the problem?
ACW
not rated yet Mar 19, 2012
They did seem to be a bit short with the remedy of the problem...
PieRSquare
not rated yet Mar 19, 2012
It's been there since 2004. The mission was extended in 2008.

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.