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ESA's Huygens begins its final journey into the unknown

The European Space Agency's Huygens probe was successfully released by NASA's Cassini orbiter early this morning and is now on a controlled collision course toward Saturn's largest and most mysterious moon, Titan, where on 14 January it will make a descent through one of the most intriguing atmospheres in the solar system to an unknown surface.

The separation occurred at 02:00 UTC (03:00 CET): A few minutes after separation, Cassini turned back to Earth and relayed back information about the separation. This signal then took 1 hour and 8 minutes to cross the 1.2 billion kilometres separating the Cassini spacecraft and Earth.

"Today's release is another successful milestone in the Cassini/Huygens odyssey", said Dr David Southwood, ESA's Director of Science Programmes. "This was an amicable separation after seven years of living together. Our thanks to our partners at NASA for the lift. Each spacecraft will now continue on its own but we expect they'll keep in touch to complete this amazing mission. Now all our hopes and expectations are focused on getting the first in-situ data from a new world we've been dreaming of exploring for decades".

Huygens approaching entry

Final stage of a seven-year odyssey

The Cassini/Huygens mission, jointly developed by NASA, ESA and the Italian space agency (ASI), began on 15 October 1997, when the composite spacecraft were launched from Cape Canaveral, Florida, atop a Titan 4B/Centaur vehicle. Together, the two probes weighed 5548 kg at launch and became the largest space mission ever sent to the outer planets. To gain sufficient velocity to reach Saturn, they had to conduct four gravity-assist manoeuvres by flying twice by Venus, once by the Earth and once by Jupiter. On 1 July Cassini/Huygens eventually became the first spacecraft to enter an orbit around Saturn.

On 17 December, while on its third orbit around the ringed
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Contact: Franco Bonacina
33-1-5369-7155
European Space Agency
25-Dec-2004


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