Solar System's Best-Outfitted Spacecraft Dons its Thermal Cloak

February 14, 1997

Having successfully completed recent space environmental tests, NASA's Cassini spacecraft, destined for the planet Saturn, has been returned to JPL's spacecraft assembly facility for a final round of systems testing.

The program remains on schedule and within budget.

The spacecraft, due for launch Oct. 6, will be shipped this spring to NASA's Kennedy Space Center in Florida for pre-launch preparations.

Cassini last week completed a month of so-called "shake and bake" tests that imitate the vibration forces and extreme temperatures the spacecraft will have to withstand during its upcoming launch and flight through space. Reflective gold-colored space blankets have been sewn and laced into place on the Saturn orbiter. The 24-layer blankets will protect Cassini's computers and other systems from the extreme hot and cold of space.

The painstaking assembly of Cassini, the most sophisticated U.S. planetary spacecraft ever built, has been under way at JPL since 1995. Development of the mission began in 1989 and has involved the efforts of thousands of people at university and government research labs and technology and business firms across the country. In Europe, work continues on the Huygens probe that will be mounted on Cassini and dropped via parachute to the surface of Saturn's largest and most mysterious moon, Titan. The Huygens probe will be mated with the Cassini spacecraft at
Kennedy Space Center in late spring.

After a nearly seven-year trip, Cassini will reach Saturn in July 2004. There, it will enter orbit around the ringed planet and make detailed, four-year observations of Saturn, its largest moon Titan, several smaller
icy moons, and the magnetic environment surrounding the planet. The Huygens probe destined for Titan's surface is provided by the European Space Agency (ESA). The probe will parachute to the surface of Titan, thought to resemble an early Earthlike environment before life began. The mission is an international effort of NASA, ESA and the Italian Space Agency (ASI), and is managed for NASA by JPL.

Additional information about Cassini-Huygens is online at

Cassini will begin orbiting Saturn on July 1, 2004, and release its piggybacked Huygens probe about six months later for descent through the thick atmosphere of the moon Titan. Cassini-Huygens is a cooperative mission of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, manages the mission for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.

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