Reaching New Frontiers – Spacecraft Huygens
Lands Successfully on Saturn’s Moon Titan
After its seven-year
journey through the Solar System on board the Cassini spacecraft,
ESA’s Huygens probe has successfully descended through the
atmosphere of Titan, Saturn’s largest moon and safely landed
on its surface.
is the colored view, following processing to add reflection
spectra data, and gives a better indication of the actual
color of the surface. Initially thought to be rocks or ice
blocks, they are more pebble-sized. The two rock-like objects
just below the middle of the image are about 15 centimeters
(about 6 inches) (left) and 4 centimeters (about 1.5 inches)
(center) across respectively, at a distance of about 85
centimeters (about 33 inches) from Huygens. The surface
is darker than originally expected, consisting of a mixture
of water and hydrocarbon ice. There is also evidence of
erosion at the base of these objects, indicating possible
by ESA / NASA / Univ. of Arizona
scientific data arrived at the European Space Operations Centre
(ESOC) in Darmstadt, Germany, this afternoon at 17:19 CET, January
14. Huygens is mankind’s first successful attempt to land
a probe on another world in the outer Solar System. “This
is a great achievement for Europe and its US partners in this
ambitious international endeavour to explore Saturn system”,
said Jean-Jacques Dordain, ESA’s Director Geneal.
Following its release from the Cassini mothership on 25 December,
Huygens reached Titan’s outer atmosphere after 20 days and
a 4 million km cruise. The probe started its descent through Titan’s
hazy cloud layers from an altitude of about 1270 km at 11:13 CET.
During the following three minutes Huygens had to decelerate from
18 000 to 1400 km per hour.
of parachutes then slowed it down to less than 300 km per hour.
At a height of about 160 km the probe’s scientific instruments
were exposed to Titan’s atmosphere (To hear the sounds recorded
during Huygens’ descent Click Here).
At about 120 km, the main parachute was replaced by a smaller
one to complete the descent, with an expected touchdown at 13:34
CET. Preliminary data indicate that the probe landed safely, likely
on a solid surface.
began transmitting data to Cassini four minutes into its descent
and continued to transmit data after landing at least as long
as Cassini was above Titan’s horizon. The certainty that
Huygens was alive came already at 11:25 CET, when the Green Bank
radio telescope in West Virginia, USA, picked up a fain but unmistakable
radio signal from the probe. Radio telescopes on Earth continued
to receive this signal well past the expected lifetime of Huygens.
Huygens data, relayed by Cassini, were picked up by NASA’s
Deep Space Network and delivered immediately to ESA’s European
Space Operation Centre in Darmstadt, Germany, where the scientific
analysis is currently taking place.
“Titan was always the target in the Saturn system where
the need for ‘ground truth’ from a probe was critical.
It is a fascinating world and we are now eagerly awaiting the
scientific results,” says Professor David Southwood, Director
of ESA’s scientific programmme.
“The Huygens scientists are all delighted. This was worth
the long wait,” says Dr Jean-Pierre Lebreton, ESA Huygens
Mission Manager. Huygens is expected to provide the first direct
and detailed sampling of Titan’s atmospheric chemistry and
the first photographs of its hidden surface, and will supply a
detailed ‘weather report’.
One of the main reasons for sending Huygens to Titan is that
its nitrogen atmosphere, rich in methane, and its surface may
contain many chemicals of the kind that existed on the young Earth.
Combined with the Cassini observations, Huygens will afford an
unprecedented view of Saturn’s mysterious moon.
through Titan was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity and today’s
achievement proves that our partnership with ESA was an excellent
one” says Alphonso Diaz, NASA Associate Administrator of
mission is a cooperation between NASA, the European Space Agency
and ASI, the Italian space agency. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory
(JPL), a division of the California Institute of Technology in
Pasadena, is managing the mission for NASA’s Office of Space
Science, Washington. JPL designed, developed and assembled the
teamwork in Europe and the USA, between scientists, industry and
agencies has been extraordinary and has set the foundations for
today’s enormous success,” concludes Jean-Jacques
Related to Cassini, Saturn, and the Successful Landing of Huygens:
NASA Salutes Successful Huygens Probe
** Life to Appear in
Titan? Possible, Says German Scientist
** Titan Looks Like
Ice-Cream, Says ESA Man as Probe Photographs Saturn Satellite
Salutes Successful Huygens Probe
Cassini image shows predominantly the impact-scarred leading
hemisphere of Saturn’s icy moon Rhea (1,528 kilometers,
or 949 miles across). The image was taken in visible light
with the Cassini spacecraft narrow angle camera on Dec.
12, 2004, at a distance of 2 million kilometers (1.2 million
miles) from Rhea and at a Sun-Rhea-spacecraft, or phase,
angle of 30 degrees. The image scale is about 12 kilometers
(7.5 miles) per pixel. The image has been magnified by a
factor of two and contrast enhanced to aid visibility.
by NASA/JPL / Space Science Institute
NASA Administrator Sean O’Keefe offered congratulations to the
European Space Agency (ESA) on the successful touchdown of its
Huygens probe on Saturn’s moon Titan.
"The descent through Titan’s atmosphere and down to its
surface appeared to be perfect," Administrator O’Keefe said.
"We congratulate ESA for their spectacular success. We’re
very proud of the Cassini-Huygens teams that helped to make this
both an engineering and scientific victory, and we appreciate
the dedication and support from our international partners."
The probe entered Titan’s upper atmosphere at about 5:15 a.m.
EST Jan. 14. During its two and one-half hour descent to the surface
of the moon, it sampled the chemical composition of the atmosphere.
The probe continued transmitting data for more than 90 minutes
after reaching the surface.
The data was sent to NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, and was recorded
and relayed through NASA’s Deep Space Network to the Jet Propulsion
Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif., and to ESA’s Space Operations Center
in Darmstadt, Germany. The European Space Agency facility is the
operations center for the Huygens probe mission. Data was received
over one of two channels designed to be mostly redundant.
JPL Director Dr. Charles Elachi said, "We congratulate our
colleagues at ESA on the splendid performance of the Huygens probe
and look forward to the science results of this effort. This has
been a great example of international collaboration to explore
our solar system."
Cassini-Huygens is a joint mission of NASA, ESA and the Italian
Space Agency. ESA’s Huygens probe was carried to Saturn’s orbit
aboard Cassini, and sent on its way to Titan on Dec. 24, 2004.
Cassini continues to orbit Saturn on a four-year prime mission
to study the planet, its rings, moons and magnetosphere.
"Our ESA colleagues have every reason to be very proud of
the excellent manner in which the Huygens probe performed,"
said Robert T. Mitchell, Cassini program manager at JPL. "We
are also proud of our support for this endeavor," he said.
JPL, a division
of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages
the Cassini mission for NASA’s Science Mission Directorate, Washington.
JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter. ESA
built and managed the development of the Huygens probe and is
in charge of the probe operations. ISA provided the high-gain
antenna, much of the radio system and elements of several of Cassini’s
to Appear in Titan? Possible, Says German Scientist
(RIA Novosti) – Life may appear in Titan, Saturn’s largest satellite,
in two billion years or so, says Bernhard von Weie of the European
Space Agency German branch in Darmstadt.
of Titan resembles what Earth had 3.8 billion years ago, judging
by information coming from the Huygens probe after it got through
initial decoding. Easily discernible in its photographs are methane
rivers, a lake and ice patches, so there is a certain chance of
life appearing there in the very distant future, the scientist
said to Novosti in a telephone interview.
surpass all expectations. All equipment was doing fine-that after
a seven-year space odyssey. Tremendous success crowned ESA work
to put an end to all apprehensions.
was offering information even longer than expected. Its work in
the Titan atmosphere lasted two hours and a half, plus an hour
and a half on the planet surface. The ESA obtained 350 high-precision
photographs experts will thoroughly study. More than that, there
are sound recordings, with noises resembling strong wind.
is bathed in red-orange light the photos show. According to other
Huygens data, the planet is extremely cold-minus 180 degrees centigrade
on the surface.
Looks Like Ice-Cream, Says ESA Man
as Probe Photographs Saturn Satellite
January 15 (RIA Novosti, by Alexander Kovalev) – The Titan surface
is not unlike creme brulee ice-cream, says Alain Fournier-Sycre,
official European Space Agency representative in Moscow.
became evident with initial analyses of decoded information from
the Huygens probe, which photographed Saturn’s largest satellite.
That means its solid soil is coated in a layer of pasty substance
several centimeters thick. All this is only a first impression.
ESA experts will be surer after they decode information from Titan
drilling, he said to Novosti.
also heard noises Huygens had recorded while entering the Titan
atmosphere. "These were rustling sounds as distinct as if
you were on board the craft," remarked our interviewee.
its mission in full. A first-ever endeavor to study Titan was
triumphant success. The craft lasted throughout its scheduled
two hours and a half before its batteries went off. Now, it will
stay idle on Titan surface forever.