Status Report

Cassini Mission Status – April 14, 2000

By SpaceRef Editor
April 14, 2000
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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, currently en route to Saturn, has
successfully completed its passage through our solar system’s
asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter.

This makes Cassini the seventh spacecraft ever to fly
through the asteroid belt. Before NASA’s Pioneer 10 spacecraft
successfully passed through the region in 1972, it was not known
whether a spacecraft could survive the trip.

The belt contains a significant concentration of asteroids.
Nonetheless, the area is not considered a hazard to spacecraft.
Engineers did not make any adjustments to Cassini as it passed
through the region, except the spacecraft’s cosmic dust analyzer
was reoriented whenever possible to better study the environment.
A cover over Cassini’s main engines has been in place at all
times since launch except when main engine firings were
performed. The cover protects the engines from any possible

“I’m glad we’ve passed through it, but it’s pretty routine.
There’s a lot of material in the belt, but there’s also an awful
lot of space out there,” said Cassini Project Manager Bob
Mitchell at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif.

The spacecraft entered the belt in mid-December and while it
was in the area, Cassini’s camera imaged the asteroid 2685
Masursky. Data gathered provided scientists with the first size
estimates on the asteroid and preliminary evidence that it may
have different material properties than previously believed.

Cassini remains in excellent health as it continues its
seven-year-long journey to Saturn. Launched October 15, 1997,
Cassini has already flown by Venus and Earth before heading
toward a flyby of Jupiter on December 30, 2000. The giant
planet’s gravity will bend Cassini’s flight path to put it on
course for arrival into orbit around Saturn on July 1, 2004.

Cassini’s mission is to study Saturn, its moons, its rings,
and its magnetic and radiation environment for four years.
Cassini will also deliver the European Space Agency’s Huygens
probe to parachute to the surface of Saturn’s moon Titan on
November 30, 2004. Titan is of special interest partly because
of its many Earth-like characteristics, including a mostly
nitrogen atmosphere and the presence of organic molecules in the
atmosphere and on its surface. Lakes or seas of ethane and
methane may exist on its surface.
The mission is a joint endeavor of NASA, the European Space
Agency and the Italian Space Agency. The Cassini orbiter, built
by NASA, and the Huygens probe, provided by the European Space
Agency (ESA), were mated together and launched as a single
package from Cape Canaveral, Fla. Cassini’s dish-shaped high-gain
antenna was provided for the mission by the Italian Space Agency.

The mission is managed by JPL, a division of the California
Institute of Technology. More information about the Cassini
mission is available at

SpaceRef staff editor.