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Extension of Funding for Saturn Mission

Planetologists at Freie Universität Berlin Can Expect Funds through the End of 2018

№ 242/2015 from Aug 07, 2015

The German Federal Ministry for Economic Affairs and Energy announced that it is extending its funding for the international space mission Cassini-Huygens to explore the Saturn system for another three years. The research project of the Planetology and Remote Sensing Group headed by Prof. Dr. Stephan van Gasselt, which is involved in the camera experiment on board the spacecraft, will also continue to be funded. The new project funding includes a grant of 1.104 million euros, which is enough to equip five staff positions, among other things.

The Cassini-Huygens mission was started by NASA in 1997 with the goal of sending a spacecraft with a landing unit to Saturn, which is more than a billion kilometers away. After a journey of nearly seven years, the spacecraft reached the ringed planet in the outer solar system. At the end of 2004 the landing capsule Huygens was separated from the main craft, and a month later it landed on Titan, the largest moon of Saturn. The spacecraft Cassini remained in orbit around Saturn, and since then, has been continuously exploring the magnetosphere of Saturn, as well as its rings and the more than 60 large and small moons of Saturn.

The onboard camera experiment (imaging science subsystem) regularly records images in the near ultraviolet, visible light and the near infrared. From these data, members of the Planetology and Remote Sensing Group at Freie Universität continuously generate new true-color mosaics of the moon surface, thus providing the basis for the scientific evaluation. This includes, for example, determining the age of the various lunar surfaces (by crater measurements), the investigation of morphological characteristics and geological developments, and research on the physical properties of the outer moons. The research group is also instrumental in planning the monitoring. During the new funding period, additional camera observations of the outer small moons of Saturn and flowcharts for flybys near the large moons will be planned and implemented in close collaboration with the Jet Propulsion Laboratory (JPL), the Space Science Institute (SSI), and the German Aerospace Center (DLR).

The additional funding for the group headed by Professor Stephan van Gasselt will give the scientists an opportunity to continue the observations of the numerous moons of Saturn and their evaluation of the collected data as well as to present their findings at international conferences and publish them in prestigious publications. In addition, the researchers intend to set up new online platforms that will provide the interested public with better access to information and images coming from the mission.

The Cassini-Huygens mission was originally supposed to end in 2008 after four years of research in the Saturn system. Now it is already in its second extension phase. The fact that the spaceship and the experiments are functioning well beyond the originally planned mission duration is considered to be a great technical achievement by the aerospace industry. For example, the ISS camera experiment has already sent far more than 300,000 images of the Saturn system to the Earth as part of this mission. The "Cassini-Huygens-Mission: Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) Experimentbeteiligung"  project by the Planetology and Remote Sensing Group at the Institute of Geological Science at Freie Universität has been receiving funding from the German federal government since 2003. The total grants amount to 4.32 million euros.

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