NASA Extends Cassini's Tour of Saturn, Continuing International Cooperation for World Class Science

WASHINGTON -- NASA will extend the international Cassini-Huygens
mission to explore Saturn and its planets to 2017. The agency's
fiscal year 2011 budget provides a $60 million per year extension for
continued study of the ringed planet.

"This is a mission that never stops providing us surprising scientific
results and showing us eye popping new vistas," said Jim Green,
director of NASA's planetary science division at NASA Headquarters in
Washington. "The historic traveler's stunning discoveries and images
have revolutionized our knowledge of Saturn and its moons."

Cassini launched in October 1997 with the European Space Agency's
Huygens probe. The spacecraft arrived at Saturn in 2004. The probe
was equipped with six instruments to study Titan, Saturn's largest
moon. Cassini's 12 instruments have returned a daily stream of data
from Saturn's system for nearly six years. The project was scheduled
to end in 2008, but the mission received a 27-month extension to
Sept. 2010.

"The extension presents a unique opportunity to follow seasonal
changes of an outer planet system all the way from its winter to its
summer," said Bob Pappalardo, Cassini project scientist at NASA's Jet
Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Some of Cassini's most
exciting discoveries still lie ahead."

This second extension, called the Cassini Solstice Mission, enables
scientists to study seasonal and other long-term weather changes on
the planet and its moons. Cassini arrived just after Saturn's
northern winter solstice, and this extension continues until a few
months past northern summer solstice in May 2017. The northern summer
solstice marks the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere and
winter in the southern hemisphere.

A complete seasonal period on Saturn has never been studied at this
level of detail. The Solstice mission schedule calls for an
additional 155 orbits around the planet, 54 flybys of Titan and 11
flybys of the icy moon Enceladus.

The mission extension also will allow scientists to continue
observations of Saturn's rings and the magnetic bubble around the
planet known as the magnetosphere. The spacecraft will make repeated
dives between Saturn and its rings to obtain in depth knowledge of
the gas giant. During these dives, the spacecraft will study the
internal structure of Saturn, its magnetic fluctuations and ring

The mission will be evaluated periodically to ensure the spacecraft
has the ability to achieve new science objectives for the entire

"The spacecraft is doing remarkably well, even as we endure the
expected effects of age after logging 2.6 billion miles on its
odometer," said Bob Mitchell, Cassini program manager at JPL. "This
extension is important because there is so much still to be learned
at Saturn. The planet is full of secrets, and it doesn't give them up

Cassini's travel scrapbook includes more than 210,000 images;
information gathered during more than 125 revolutions around Saturn;
67 flybys of Titan and eight close flybys of Enceladus. Cassini has
revealed unexpected details in the planet's signature rings, and
observations of Titan have given scientists a glimpse of what Earth
might have been like before life evolved.

Scientists hope to learn answers to many questions that have developed
during the course of the mission, including why Saturn seems to have
an inconsistent rotation rate and how a probable subsurface ocean
feeds the Enceladus' jets.

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the
European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. JPL manages the
project for NASA's Science Mission Directorate in Washington. The
Cassini orbiter was designed, developed and assembled at JPL.

More Cassini information is available at:


Source: NASA

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