Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing Participation

The Planetary Sciences and Remote Sensing Group is directly involved in the Cassini mission since many years. From 1991 to 2014 Prof. Neukum was a Science Team Member of the Imaging Science Subsystem experiment (ISS) on the orbiter Cassini. Tilmann Denk has been appointed Cassini Participating Scientist in 2013, and Prof. Jaumann from the German Aerospace Center (DLR) is Co-Investigator in the team of the spectrometer experiment (VIMS) on Cassini.

The project has been funded at Freie Universität Berlin since 2003 by the National Space Administration with means of the Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy. The latest approved period of funding reaches from July 2015 to September 2019 (ref.no. 50 OH 1503).

Mission phases and some of the most important discoveries

Observation strategy

A major task was to plan the camera observations of the Saturnian moons Iapetus, Dione, Rhea, Phoebe and the outer moons. The planning was conducted in close co-operation with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL) of NASA in California, with the Space Science Institute in Colorado and with the DLR Institute of Planetary Research:

  • Definition of the time schedules for the targeted and remote moon flybys
  • Negotiations with other instrument teams to coordinate the short observation times
  • Preparation and implementation of the entire observation plan for the outer moons
  • Preparation of the camera control files (moment of exposure, exposure time etc.) and partly of the commands for the position control of the Cassini probe

Scientific evaluation of data

Immediately after the reception of the data, the systematic processing and evaluation could be initiated. The first images of the Saturnian moons reached Earth in June 2004. Until the end of the mission, Cassini transmitted significantly more than 400.000 exposures. The image data is the basis for working on the following research topics:

  • Age determination of solid surfaces in the Saturnian system (by means of crater size-frequency distributions)
  • Evolution of the bright-dark dichotomy on Iapetus (globally and locally)
  • Geological evolution of the moons
  • Research on meteorite bombardment
  • Research on physical features of the outer moons (rotational periods, polar axes, shape etc.)

Participants in the Cassini project team

Dione in front of Saturn and its rings, seen here almost edge on  
© NASA/JPL/Space Science Institute/FU Berlin