NASA Cassini Spacecraft Mission is Ten Years Old Today

First Posted: Jun 30, 2014 09:44 AM EDT

The Cassini spacecraft was originally supposed to explore Saturn and its moons for a duration of four years, but due to its success, NASA extended its mission three times. Today is the spacecraft's tenth birthday and it continues to make discoveries.

The spacecraft is composed of the Cassini orbiter and the Huygens probe - both of which are equipped for 27 different science investigations of Saturn and its moons. For ten years the orbiter's 12 instruments and the probe's six instruments have been making groundbreaking discoveries in deep space for NASA scientists.

Cassini recently discovered a sea of liquid water buried 19 to 25 miles beneath the surface of Enceladus, one of Saturn's moons, implying that at some point maybe extraterrestrial life existed in other parts of our solar system. The spacecraft is currently exploring another one of Saturn's moons, Titan, in order to figure out how it formed.

Perhaps the most interesting aspect of Cassini is its antenna subsystem. It has one high-gain antenna and two-low gain antennas: the former is responsible for supporting communication with Earth along with conducting certain scientific experiments and the latter are used in case of a power failure or another emergency situation. The system has obviously been robust, operating for ten years in deep space.

"Having a healthy, long-lived spacecraft at Saturn has afforded us a precious opportunity," Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, said in this article. "By having a decade there with Cassini, we have been privileged to witness never-before-seen events that are changing our understanding of how planetary systems form and what conditions might lead to habitats for life."

The "never-before-seen-events" are achieved through Cassini's ability to see in wavelengths of light and energy and feel things about magnetic fields and tiny dust particles--both of which humans cannot do. As a result, the spacecraft has helped scientists recognize the types of molecules that populate our solar system. NASA is expected to ride out this mission as long as possible because it's saving money and providing plentiful intelligence.

You can read more about the Cassini orbiter and the Huygens probe on the NASA website.

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