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: Bad weather delays SpaceX launch with 3-D printer

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

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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.