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Topics: Space Exploration - 1.2.g Saturn Missions
1.2.g Saturn Missions
* Pioneer 11
* Voyager 1
* Voyager 2
* Cassini-Huygens together with ESA
* Titan Saturn System Mission together with ESA (planned launch after 2020)
20th and 21st Century NASA/ESA probes
Pioneer 11 flyby
Saturn was first visited by Pioneer 11 in September 1979. It flew within 20 000 km of the planet's cloud tops. Low resolution images were acquired of the planet and a few of its moons; the resolution of the images was not good enough to discern surface features. The spacecraft also studied the rings; among the discoveries were the thin F-ring and the fact that dark gaps in the rings are bright when viewed towards the Sun, or in other words, they are not empty of material. Pioneer 11 also measured the temperature of Titan.
In November 1980, the Voyager 1 probe visited the Saturn system. It sent back the first high-resolution images of the planet, rings, and satellites. Surface features of various moons were seen for the first time. Voyager 1 performed a close flyby of Titan, greatly increasing our knowledge of the atmosphere of the moon. However, it also proved that Titan's atmosphere is impenetrable in visible wavelengths; so, no surface details were seen. The flyby also changed the spacecraft's trajectory out from the plane of the solar system.
Almost a year later, in August 1981, Voyager 2 continued the study of the Saturn system. More close-up images of Saturn's moons were acquired, as well as evidence of changes in the atmosphere and the rings. Unfortunately, during the flyby, the probe's turnable camera platform stuck for a couple of days, and some planned imaging was lost. Saturn's gravity was used to direct the spacecraft's trajectory towards Uranus.
The probes discovered and confirmed several new satellites orbiting near or within the planet's rings. They also discovered the small Maxwell gap (a gap within the C Ring) and Keeler gap (a 42 km wide gap in the A Ring).
On July 1, 2004, the Cassini–Huygens spacecraft performed the SOI (Saturn Orbit Insertion) maneuver and entered into orbit around Saturn. Before the SOI, Cassini had already studied the system extensively. In June 2004, it had conducted a close flyby of Phoebe, sending back high-resolution images and data.
Cassini's flyby of Saturn's largest moon, Titan, has captured radar images of large lakes and their coastlines with numerous islands and mountains. The orbiter completed two Titan flybys before releasing the Huygens probe on December 25, 2004. Huygens descended onto the surface of Titan on January 14, 2005, sending a flood of data during the atmospheric descent and after the landing. During 2005, Cassini conducted multiple flybys of Titan and icy satellites. Cassini's last Titan flyby commenced on March 23, 2008.
Since early 2005, scientists have been tracking lightning on Saturn, primarily found by Cassini. The power of the lightning is said to be approximately 1000 times than that of the lightning on Earth. In addition, scientists believe that this storm is the strongest of its kind ever seen.
On March 10, 2006, NASA reported that, through images, the Cassini probe found evidence of liquid water reservoirs that erupt in geysers on Saturn's moon Enceladus. Images had also shown particles of water in its liquid state being emitted by icy jets and towering plumes. According to Dr. Andrew Ingersoll, California Institute of Technology, "Other moons in the solar system have liquid-water oceans covered by kilometers of icy crust. What's different here is that pockets of liquid water may be no more than tens of meters below the surface."
On September 20, 2006, a Cassini probe photograph revealed a previously undiscovered planetary ring, outside the brighter main rings of Saturn and inside the G and E rings. Apparently, the source of this ring is the result of the crashing of a meteoroid off two of the moons of Saturn.
In July 2006, Cassini saw the first proof of hydrocarbon lakes near Titan's north pole, which was confirmed in January 2007. In March 2007, additional images near Titan's north pole discovered hydrocarbon "seas", the largest of which is almost the size of the Caspian Sea.
In October 2006, the probe detected a 5,000 km diameter hurricane with an eyewall at Saturn's South Pole.
As of 2006, the probe has discovered and confirmed 4 new satellites. Its primary mission ended in 2008 when the spacecraft had completed 74 orbits around the planet. The probe is now in its first mission extension.