artists concept of Cassini during the Saturn Orbit InsertionCassini–Huygens is a joint NASA/ESA/ASI mission which has been studying the planet Saturn and its many natural satellites since 2004. It was launched on October 15, 1997 consisting of a Saturn orbiter (Cassini) and an atmospheric probe/lander for the moon Titan (Huygens). After a flyby of jupiter it entered Saturn orbit on July 1, 2004 and Huygens landed on Titan January 14, 2005.

This was the first landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar System. On April 18, 2008, NASA announced a two-year extension of the funding for ground operations of this mission, at which point it was renamed to Cassini Equinox Mission and it was again extended in February 2010 with the Cassini Solstice Mission.

The mission is currently planned to continue until 2017 when it will end with a Saturn impact.

Cassini has seven primary objectives:

  • Determine the three-dimensional structure and dynamic behavior of the rings of Saturn
  • Determine the composition of the satellite surfaces and the geological history of each object
  • Determine the nature and origin of the dark material on Iapetus's leading hemisphere
  • Measure the three-dimensional structure and dynamic behavior of the magnetosphere
  • Study the dynamic behavior of Saturn's atmosphere at cloud level
  • Study the time variability of Titan's clouds and hazes
  • Characterise Titan's surface on a regional scale

Rings Occulting Titan (Image courtesy NASA)

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