Early Mission Phase Nears Completion
January 8, 1998
Having clocked in more than 200 million kilometers (124 million miles) since launch last Oct. 15, the Cassini spacecraft remains in excellent health as it progresses on its long flight path to Saturn.
The Cassini flight team has nearly completed all scheduled spacecraft configuration activities for the mission's early phase. Onboard software stored in the command data subsystem has been directing spacecraft activities as scheduled. The spacecraft's attitude in space is being maintained using the spacecraft's small hydrazine thrusters. For the first 14 months of flight, Cassini will fly so that its 4-meter-diameter (13-foot) high-gain antenna always faces the Sun, shading most of the spacecraft from the more intense sunlight that characterizes the inner solar system. Throughout this period, spacecraft communications are conducted through one of Cassini's
two low-gain antennas; the antenna selected depends on the relative geometry of the Sun, Earth and spacecraft.
In December and through January and beyond, periodic instrument maintenance and health checks, along with other routine spacecraft "housekeeping" activities, dominate Cassini's schedule. Cassini spacecraft operations and science team personnel continue to develop software command "loads" that will direct spacecraft activities and scientific instrument observations later in the mission.
Today Cassini is traveling at a speed of more than 109,200 kilometers per hour (67,800 miles per hour) and is more than 22,450,000 kilometers (13,950,000 miles) from Earth. It is 27,500,000 kilometers (17,088,000 miles) from Venus, where the spacecraft will perform its first gravity-assist maneuver on April 26. As the spacecraft swings around Venus, the planet's gravity will boost Cassini's speed for the next phase of the journey to Saturn.
Additional information about Cassini-Huygens is online at http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov.
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.