Cassini has made some crucial advances, including discovering three of Saturn's 62 moons and finding evidence of water on Enceladus by sampling carbon-based molecules while flying through vapour. In 2005, ESA's Huygens probe was released from the main Cassini spacecraft and became the first probe to successfully land in the outer solar system. It gave us our first glimpse of Titan's surface under its thick clouds. The data Cassini and Huygens have given us has been fundamental to our understanding of the Saturn system.
RAL Space scientists and engineers played a role in developing and building Cassini-Huygens, a huge collaboration between NASA, ESA and ASI, the Italian Space Agency. The Huygens Surface Science Package (SSP) was a collaboration with the Open University. The SSP collection of sensor subsystems analysed Huygens's descent from Cassini through Titan's atmosphere as well as Titan's barren rocky surface. Without Huygens's protective heat shield, Cassini's final decent won't be as gentle but the instruments on board will continue to send back data about Saturn's atmosphere until it loses contact with Earth.
RAL Space also collaborated on the Cassini Plasma Spectrometer (CAPS - image left) and the Cosmic Dust Analyser (CDA - image right.) For CAPS, we built a high voltage power supply board and for the CDA we built the Chemical Analyser electronics which measured the time-of-flight of ions, telling us the chemical composition of interplanetary dust grains.
While Cassini won't be able to send back new data this scientifically rich mission will keep scientists occupied for a long while yet and has set a gold standard for exploration missions. At RAL Space, we're looking forward to the next steps in space exploration.