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UK Participation In International Cassini Mission To Saturn

Last Updated on Sunday, 02 May 2010 19:34
Published on Friday, 25 February 2005 00:00

 

UK scientists are eagerly anticipating the beginning of one of the most ambitious space science missions of the past four decades. The Cassini mission to the ringed planet Saturn is scheduled for launch from Cape Canaveral, Florida, in mid-October 1997. A heavy-lift Titan IV-Centaur rocket will send the spacecraft on its way to the distant reaches of the solar system, at the beginning of a seven-year odyssey to Saturn. It will be only the fourth close reconnaissance of this giant gas planet and its moons since the space age began in 1957.

Scientists have already spent 15 years planning the mission and preparing their instruments. UK institutions are playing a major role in many of the orbiter's investigations.

 

  • Professor David Southwood of Imperial College, London, is Principal Investigator on the Dual Technique Magnetometer. The instrument has been developed in collaboration with Ultra Electronics Ltd. of Cannock, Staffordshire. It will study Saturn's extensive magnetosphere and search for magnetic fields around its moons.

     

  • Scientists from the University of Oxford's Department of Atmospheric, Oceanic and Planetary Physics, as well as Queen Mary & Westfield College, London, will be using the Composite Infrared Spectrometer to measure the temperature, composition and cloud structure of Saturn and Titan, and to study weather conditions on both worlds.

     

  • Dr Andrew Coates of Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, leads the team providing the Electron Spectrometer, part of the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer. Also involved is Rutherford Appleton Laboratory. The instrument will study how charged particles trapped by the magnetosphere affect Saturn, its moons and ring system, including the wispy spokes in the planet's rings.

     

  • Dr Hugo Alleyne and the late Dr Les Woolliscroft of the University of Sheffield have provided data compression software for the Radio and Plasma Wave Science experiment. This will study plasma waves and radio emissions in the Saturn system.

     

  • Professor Carl Murray of Queen Mary and Westfield College, London, is a member of the Imaging Science Subsystem team which will obtain up to 500,000 high resolution images of the planet, its moons and rings in both optical and near- infrared wavelengths.

     

  • Professor Tony McDonnell of the University of Kent is one of the collaborators on the Cosmic Dust Analyser. This will detect very small particles and provide information on their physical, chemical and dynamic properties. Rutherford Appleton Laboratory has also contributed to the design and manufacture of this instrument.

     

The Mission

The Cassini spacecraft must lift off from Cape Canaveral Air Station, Space Launch Complex 40, between 6 October and 15 November. The launch is currently scheduled for Monday 13 October with a launch window which opens at 4.55 a.m. and closes at 7.15 a.m. (E.D.T.) corresponding to 10.55-13.15 European Time. The voyage to Saturn will take 6.7 years.

Following the launch, the international science team will have to endure a further prolonged period of waiting, punctuated only by two gravity assist flybys of Venus (April 1998 and June 1999), then one each of Earth (August 1999) and Jupiter (December 2000). As Saturn hoves into view in July 2004, a battery of scientific instruments will stir into action, starting the most extensive survey yet obtained of the Saturnian system.

Cassini's task is to spend at least four years conducting 27 different scientific investigations of the giant gas planet's atmosphere and magnetosphere, its magnificent rings, and sixteen of the known moons. The largest of these, Titan, is particularly fascinating since it has a thick, cloudy atmosphere mostly made of nitrogen but also containing hydrocarbons such as methane - similar to the atmosphere of the early Earth but much colder.

During this extended exploration, the spacecraft will complete more than 60 orbits of Saturn, including about 45 close flybys of Titan and about 20 flybys of some of the smaller, icy moons. This tour is made possible by using planet-sized Titan's gravity to alter Cassini's orbit each time the craft swoops to within a few thousand kilometres of the orange cloud tops.

 

Notes

The mission is named after the 17th century Italian-French astronomer, Giovanni Domenico (or Jean-Dominique) Cassini who made a number of important discoveries about the Saturn system.

The mission is an international venture involving the National Aeronautic s and Space Administration (NASA), the European Space Agency (ESA), and the Italian Space Agency (ASI), as well as several European academic and industrial partners. The United States is responsible for the main Cassini spacecraft which will be inserted into orbit around Saturn in July 2004. Attached to the mother craft will be the European Space Agency's Huygens probe, whose task is to parachute onto the unexplored surface of Titan, the largest of Saturn's moons (see RAS press notice 97/36).

More than 616,400 signatures sent to NASA from citizens in 81 countries have been recorded on a high-tech data disk installed on the Cassini spacecraft.

UK investment in the Cassini-Huygens mission amounts to 7.4 million pounds of which 4.48 million pounds is being spent on the orbiter experiments and 2.92 million pounds on the probe investigations. Most of this is provided by the Particle Physics and Astronomy Research Council (PPARC).

PPARC is the UK Government-funded body providing support for basic research in elementary particles and the forces of Nature; planetary and solar research, including space physics; astronomy, astrophysics and cosmology.

 

Contacts

SATURN'S RINGS AND MOONS:

 

Professor Carl Murray, Astronomy Unit, Queen Mary & Westfield College, University of London, London E1 4NS. Tel: +44 (0)171-975-5456. Fax: +44 (0)181-981-9587. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

SATURN'S ATMOSPHERE:

 

Professor Fred Taylor, Dept. of Atmospheric Physics, Clarendon Laboratory, University of Oxford, OX1 3PU. Tel: +44 (0)1865-272903. Fax: +44 (0)1865-272924. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

SATURN'S MAGNETOSPHERE:

 

Professor David Southwood, Physics Dept., Imperial College, Prince Consort Road, London SW7 2BZ. Tel: +44 (0)171-594-7500. Fax: +44 (0)171-594-7892. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

SATURN'S PLASMA ENVIRONMENT AND MAGNETOSPHERE:

 

Dr Andrew Coates, Mullard Space Science Laboratory, University College London, Holmbury St Mary, Dorking, Surrey, RH5 6NT. Tel: +44 (0)1483 204145. Fax: +44 (0)1483-278312. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Dr. Hugo Alleyne, Dept. of Automated Control and Systems Engineering, Sheffield University, Mappin Street, Sheffield S1 3JD. Tel: +44 (0)114-282-5235. Fax: +44 (0)114-273-1729. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

SPACE DUST:

 

Professor Tony McDonnell, University of Kent, Canterbury, CT2 7NR. Tel: + 44 (0)1227-459616. Fax: +44 (0)1227-762616. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

INDUSTRIAL INVOLVEMENT:

 

Mike Hellard, Ultra Electronics Ltd., Magnetics Division, Fallow Park, Rugeley Road, Hednesford, Cannock, Staffordshire WS12 5QZ. Tel: +44 (0)1543-878888. Fax: +44 (0)1543-878249. E-mail: This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.

 

Further information on the Cassini mission can be found on these Web pages:

 

NASA http://www.jpl.nasa.gov/cassini
UK-RAL http://www.ssd.rl.ac.uk/news/cassini/
QMW http://www.maths.qmw.ac.uk/Astronomy/SSD/cass_qmw.html
OXFORD http://www-atm.atm.ox.ac.uk/aopp/research
ICL http://www.sp.ph.ic.ac.uk/cassini/Cassini.html
MSSL http://msslsx.mssl.ucl.ac.uk/missions/cassini/cassini.html
KENT http://rosy.ukc.ac.uk/space/cassini-html
PPARC http://www.pparc.ac.uk/role/astrspa.htmls
Artist's impressions of the mission are available from: http://www.maths.qmw.ac.uk/Astronomy/Cassini/art_cass/

 



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