Cassini Getting the Lowdown on Titan This Weekend

Jun 18, 2010
Artist's concept of Cassini's flyby of Saturn's moon Titan. The spacecraft flies to within 880 kilometers (547 miles) of Titan's surface during its 71st flyby of Titan, known as "T70," the lowest in the entire mission. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech

(PhysOrg.com) -- NASA's Cassini spacecraft will take its lowest dip through the hazy atmosphere of Saturn's moon Titan in the early morning of June 21 UTC, which is the evening of June 20 Pacific time. This weekend's flyby, which is the 71st Titan flyby of the mission even though it is known as "T70," takes Cassini 70 kilometers (43 miles) lower than it has ever been at Titan before.

Titan's atmosphere applies torque to objects flying through it, much the same way the flow of air would wiggle your hand around if you stuck it outside a moving car window.

Cassini mission planners and the Engineering and Safety Center in Hampton, Va., have analyzed the torque applied by the atmosphere in detail to make sure the spacecraft can fly safely at an altitude of 880 kilometers (547 miles) above the surface.

When engineers calculated the most stable angle for the spacecraft to fly, they found it was almost the same as the angle that would enable Cassini to point its high-gain antenna to Earth. So they cocked the spacecraft a fraction of a degree, enabling them to track the spacecraft in real-time during its closest approach. Thrusters will fire throughout the flyby to maintain pointing automatically.

Explore further: NASA spacecraft almost to Pluto: Smile for the camera!

More information: But why does Cassini need to get so low? Read on for the perspective of one Cassini team scientist, César Bertucci. blogs.jpl.nasa.gov/?p=65

Related Stories

Cassini Attempts 12th Titan Flyby

Feb 28, 2006

NASA's Cassini spacecraft returns to Titan on Monday for its twelfth flyby since beginning to survey Saturn and its moons on July 4, 2004.

Route 66: Cassini's Next Look at Titan

Jan 27, 2010

(PhysOrg.com) -- Sixteen days after last visiting Saturn's largest moon, NASA's Cassini spacecraft returns for another look-see of the cloud-shrouded moon - this time from on high. The flyby on Thursday, Jan. ...

Cassini Goes On

Aug 24, 2004

The Cassini spacecraft successfully completed a 51-minute engine burn that will raise its next closest approach distance to Saturn by nearly 300,000 kilometers (186,000 miles). The maneuver was necessary to keep the spacec ...

Recommended for you

NASA spacecraft almost to Pluto: Smile for the camera!

Jan 23, 2015

It's showtime for Pluto. NASA's New Horizons spacecraft has traveled 3 billion miles and is nearing the end of its nine-year journey to Pluto. Sunday, it begins photographing the mysterious, unexplored, icy ...

Gullies on Vesta suggest past water-mobilized flows

Jan 23, 2015

(Phys.org)—Protoplanet Vesta, visited by NASA's Dawn spacecraft from 2011 to 2013, was once thought to be completely dry, incapable of retaining water because of the low temperatures and pressures at its ...

SOHO and Hinode offer new insight into solar eruptions

Jan 23, 2015

The sun is home to the largest explosions in the solar system. For example, it regularly produces huge eruptions known as coronal mass ejections – when billions of tons of solar material erupt off the sun, ...

Getting to know Rosetta's comet

Jan 23, 2015

Rosetta is revealing its host comet as having a remarkable array of surface features and with many processes contributing to its activity, painting a complex picture of its evolution.

User comments : 5

Adjust slider to filter visible comments by rank

Display comments: newest first

yyz
5 / 5 (2) Jun 18, 2010
"why does Cassini need to get so low?" Seems they're looking for signs of a magnetic field around the moon. According to to link given:

"Flying at this low altitude will mark the first time Cassini will be below the moon’s ionosphere, a shell of electrons and other charged particles that make up the upper part of the atmosphere. As a result, the spacecraft will find itself in a region almost entirely shielded from Saturn’s magnetic field and will be able to detect any magnetic signature originating from within Titan."

They go on to explain the significance of a detection or a non-detection of a magnetic field for Titan. Either way, this would be important for our understanding of the makeup and history of Titan.
LKD
not rated yet Jun 18, 2010
I am curious what kind of atmosphere is around Titan that being 550 miles from the surface is an issue? We have satellites and space stations that are respectively far far closer, and with a far greater gravity well to contend with.
baudrunner
not rated yet Jun 18, 2010
LKD, read this interesting and compelling link to find out all about Titan's atmosphere, which contains methane, ethane, and tholins which rain down on the surface and create huge hydrocarbon lakes, even one of which represents more potential energy than all the Earth's fossil fuel reserves throughout history.

http://baudrunner...tan.html
Parsec
5 / 5 (1) Jun 18, 2010
Vapor pressure at Titan's surface is at least 2x Earth. With the lesser gravity well, the atmosphere rises much higher than Earth's from the surface.
MarkyMark
not rated yet Jun 19, 2010
LKD, read this interesting and compelling link to find out all about Titan's atmosphere, which contains methane, ethane, and tholins which rain down on the surface and create huge hydrocarbon lakes, even one of which represents more potential energy than all the Earth's fossil fuel reserves throughout history.

http://baudrunner...tan.html


Yea one day energy wont be an issue as much when we learn how to mine such resources.

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.