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The Engineer
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It's Just Rocket Science...

04/20/2010 2:59 PM

Great article on extending the Cassini Mission from the New York Times.

In six years of cruising around the planet Saturn and its neighborhood, the Cassini spacecraft has discovered two new Saturn rings, a bunch of new moons and a whole new class of moonlets. It encountered liquid lakes on the moon Titan, water ice and a particle plume on the moon Enceladus, ridges and ripples on the rings, and cyclones at Saturn's poles. Cassini also released a European space probe that landed on Titan. And Cassini has sent back enough data to produce more than 1,400 scientific papers — at last count.

The plans are for Cassini to keep working for seven more years, but it currently has only 22 percent of the maneuvering propellant it had when it started.

Figuring out how to more than double the duration of the mission with less than a quarter of the fuel is hard. Cassini's orbital mechanics present an astonishingly complex exercise in Keplerian physics and geometry. The enormous array of science objectives and targets — moons, rings, Saturn itself — makes it one of the most complex missions ever flown.

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Guru
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Re: It's Just Rocket Science...

04/20/2010 4:51 PM

Very cool about using Titan as the "tour engine". I guess exploring planets with (big enough, gravity-producing) moons has a lot more potential than otherwise, for an orbiting explorer.

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