Artist Conception of Cassini Saturn Orbit Insertion
Illustration of Cassini at Saturn. Image credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
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NASA's Cassini spacecraft, scheduled for launch to Saturn less than a year from now, is being prepared at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), Pasadena, CA, for a series of so- called "shake and bake" tests that imitate the vibration forces and extreme temperatures the spacecraft will have to withstand during its upcoming launch and flight through space.

"We're ready to put Cassini through the toughest tests it will face before launch," said Cassini Program Manager Richard J. Spehalski of JPL. "These tests will prove Cassini has the right stuff to get to Saturn and do its job."

In coming days, the 10.5-meter (35-foot) tall Cassini spacecraft structure will be transported to JPL test facilities where it will face enormous speakers that blast the spacecraft with acoustic vibrations like those it will encounter during launch. Following that, engineers will test the spacecraft's response to random vibrations the spacecraft will experience in flight. Finally, the spacecraft will be fitted with custom-made thermal blankets and subjected to the extreme hot and cold temperatures it will reside in once it is launched into space from Cape Canaveral, FL, on October 6, 1997.

Cassini will reach Saturn in July 2004. After entering orbit around the ringed planet and make detailed observations of Saturn and its largest moon Titan, some smaller icy moons, and study the magnetic environment surrounding the planet for four years. The mission is an international effort of NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency (ASI).

Engineers and technicians at JPL last Friday, October 11, completed the painstaking assembly of the spacecraft's major components with the installation of a model of the 2.7-meter (8.8-foot) diameter Huygens probe, provided by ESA. The giant disk-shaped probe, covered with shiny amber-colored thermal blanketing, was fitted onto the side of the Cassini spacecraft. Huygens will be carried to Saturn, then released by Cassini to drop via parachute into the thick atmosphere of Titan. Huygens will take scientific measurements and observations of Titan's atmosphere, which is thought to be chemically similar to that of Earth's before life began.

The Cassini mission is managed by the Jet Propulsion Laboratory for NASA's Office of Space Science, Washington, D.C.


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