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Cassini Goes For 'Higher Ground' At Saturn

First Posted: Jan 26, 2016 12:41 PM EST

NASA's Cassini Spacecraft is heading to 'higher ground' with Saturn. Cassini's orbit has been tilted and is heading out of Saturn's ring plane, where each of its large propulsive maneuvers will assist in a gravity-assist flyby Titan, Saturn's largest moon. This event changes Cassini's orbit, which will send the spacecraft to higher elevations in regards to Saturn's equator, according to a news release.

Cassini's orbital speed around Saturn was changed to 22.3 feet per second on Jan. 23. When Cassini meets with Titan on Feb. 1, its velocity will increase by 2,539 feet per second (774 meters per second).

"Titan does all the heavy lifting," Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in California, said in a news release. "Our job is to get the spacecraft to a precise altitude and latitude above Titan, at a particular time, and these large propulsive maneuvers are what keep us on target to do that."

Cassini engineers are gradually increasing the tilt of the spacecraft's orbit (while taking Saturn's equator into consideration). The spacecraft is expected to be above Saturn's poles slightly outside the planet's main rings ('F-ring orbits') by late November. Following 20 F-ring orbits, Cassini will pass 22 times in between the inner rings and the planets. Cassini will then enter Saturn's atmosphere towards the ending of its journey on Sept. 15, 2017. Cassini is also scheduled for a Titan flyby on April 4. 

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