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: Exploring Mars in low Earth orbit

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

Exploring Mars in low Earth orbit

49 minutes ago

In their quest to understand life's potential beyond Earth, astrobiologists study how organisms might survive in numerous environments, from the surface of Mars to the ice-covered oceans of Jupiter's moon, ...

Lifetime of gravity measurements heralds new beginning

2 hours ago

Although ESA's GOCE satellite is no more, all of the measurements it gathered during its life skirting the fringes our atmosphere, including the very last as it drifted slowly back to Earth, have been drawn ...

NASA's IceCube no longer on ice

6 hours ago

NASA's Science Mission Directorate (SMD) has chosen a team at NASA's Goddard Space Flight Center in Greenbelt, Maryland, to build its first Earth science-related CubeSat mission.

Tidal forces gave moon its shape, according to new analysis

21 hours ago

The shape of the moon deviates from a simple sphere in ways that scientists have struggled to explain. A new study by researchers at UC Santa Cruz shows that most of the moon's overall shape can be explained by taking into ...

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.