Titan-Bound Huygens Probe Detaches From Cassini

December 24, 2004

(Source: Jet Propulsion Laboratory)

Huygens Probe Release

The European Space Agency's Huygens probe successfully detached from NASA's Cassini orbiter today to begin a three-week journey to Saturn's moon Titan. NASA's Deep Space Network tracking stations in Madrid, Spain, and Goldstone, Calif., received the signal at 7:24 p.m. (PST). All systems performed as expected and there were no problems reported with the Cassini spacecraft.

The Huygens probe, built and managed by the European Space
Agency, was bolted to Cassini and has been riding along during
the nearly seven-year journey to Saturn largely in a "sleep"
mode. Huygens will be the first human-made object to explore on-site the unique environment of Titan, whose chemistry is assumed to be very similar to that of early Earth before life formed. Huygens will tell us whether this assumption is correct.

"We wish to congratulate our European partners as their journey
begins and wish them well on their descent to Titan," said Robert T. Mitchell, Cassini program manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, Calif. "We are very excited to see the probe off and to have accomplished this part of our job. Now we're ready to finish our part -- receiving and relaying the
Huygens data back to Earth."

"Today's release is another successful milestone in the Cassini-
Huygens odyssey," said Dr. David Southwood, director of science program for the European Space Agency. "This was an amicable separation after seven years of living together. Our thanks to our partners at NASA for the lift. Each spacecraft will now continue on its own but we expect they'll keep in touch to
complete this amazing mission. Now all our hopes and expectations are focused on getting the first in-situ data from a new world we've been dreaming of exploring for decades."

The Huygens probe will remain dormant until the onboard timer
wakes it up just before the probe reaches Titan's upper
atmosphere on Jan. 14, 2005. Then it will begin a dramatic
plunge through Titan's murky atmosphere, tasting its chemical
makeup and composition as it descends to touch down on its
surface. The data gathered during this 2-1/2 hour descent will
be transmitted from the probe to the Cassini orbiter. Afterward,
Cassini will point its antenna to Earth and relay the data
through NASA's Deep Space Network to JPL and on to the European Space Agency's Space Operations Center in Darmstadt, Germany, which serves as the operations center for the Huygens probe mission. From this control center, ESA engineers will be
tracking the probe and scientists will be standing by to process
the data from the probe's six instruments.

On Monday, Dec. 27, the Cassini orbiter will perform a deflection
maneuver to keep it from following Huygens into Titan's
atmosphere. This maneuver will also establish the required
geometry between the probe and the orbiter for radio
communications during the probe descent.

More information on the Cassini-Huygens mission is available at:
http://saturn.jpl.nasa.gov and http://www.nasa.gov/cassini.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL, a
division of the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena,
manages the Cassini mission for NASA's Science Mission
Directorate, Washington, D.C. JPL designed, developed and
assembled the Cassini orbiter. The European Space Agency built
and managed the development of the Huygens probe and is in charge of the probe operations. The Italian Space Agency provided the high-gain antenna, much of the radio system and elements of several of Cassini's science instruments.

NEWS RELEASE: 2004-296

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