Journeys to planets and moons of the Outer Solar System always pose a great challenge to space-mission design and conduct. Within the framework of the Cassini-Huygens mission US and European space agencies jointly succeeded in sending a probe and a lander to the Saturnian system, over 1 billion kilometers away. Since 2004, instruments aboard the Cassini spacecraft continuously collect scientific data and transmit spectacular and astonishing new views to Earth. Scientists of the Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing Group at FU Berlin are involved in the Cassini camera experiment, the Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS).
View from moon Iapetus to Saturn (Image Credit: NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute)
The international Cassini-Huygens mission is a joint project of NASA, ESA and ASI, the Italian Space Agency. While NASA already successfully sent the Pioneer and Voyager probes to the Saturnian system between 1979 and 1981, Huygens, the landing capsule built by ESA, has been the first European contribution to a space mission to the Outer Solar System.
Cassini-Huygens was launched 1997 in Cape Canaveral, Florida and reached the orbit of the second largest planet of our solar system in 2004, after a journey of nearly 7 years and 3.5 billion kilometers. In December 2004, the Huygens landing capsule was released from the Cassini orbiter. One month later, Huygens successfully landed on the largest Saturnian moon Titan. Cassini itself orbits Saturn to this day and on its journey it investigates the magnetosphere of the planet as well as its rings and moons, of which to date over 60 have been discovered.
On board the Cassini orbiter we can find amongst others the Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS), a camera for images within the spectral range of the near-ultraviolet (UV), the visible light and the near-infrared (NIR). In cooperation with the German Aerospace Center (DLR) in Berlin-Adlershof and supported by the National Space Administration, the Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing Group at FU Berlin is engaged in the planning and evaluation of image data of the Saturnian moons.
The mission, originally planned to last until 2008, was already extended twice and is now due to end in September 2017. Thus there is time for numerous more observations and investigations into the Saturnian system. The researches have exclusive data rights for about one year until the image data is archived by the Planetary Data System (PDS) of NASA and made available to the public.
Link to mission participation of the Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing Group.