Cassini Switches to Backup Thrusters

Article written: 12 Mar , 2009
Updated: 24 Dec , 2015
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NASA’s Cassini spacecraft successfully switched to a backup set of propulsion thrusters late Wednesday, which will allow the long-lived machine to continue scoping out Saturn and its moons.

The swap was performed because of degradation in the performance of the primary thrusters, which had been in use since Cassini’s launch in 1997. This is only the second time in Cassini’s 11 years of flight that the engineering teams have gone to a backup system.

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This natural color view was created from images collected shortly after Cassini began its extended Equinox Mission in July 2008. Credit: NASA

The Cassini-Huygens mission is a cooperative project of NASA, the European Space Agency and the Italian Space Agency. Since its launch four years ago, the mission sent the Huygens probe to Saturn’s largest moon, Titan, and has yielded copious data about Saturn, its rings and its many moons.

The thrusters are used for making small corrections to the spacecraft’s course, for some attitude control functions, and for making angular momentum adjustments in the reaction wheels, which also are used for attitude control. The redundant set is an identical set of eight thrusters. Almost all Cassini engineering subsystems have redundant backup capability.

Cassini has successfully completed its original four-year planned tour of Saturn and is now in extended mission operations.

Sources: NASA, here and here.


6 Responses

  1. 12 Angry Scientists says

    We will not stop until the word “Perchlorate” shows up in every planetary study. Ignore us at your peril. Perchlorate will prevail.

  2. Brad says

    Perchlorate- schmerchlorate. Rust does far more damage.

  3. Nexus says

    Amazing how durable these things can be. NASA cautiously says they hope for a mission of a certain duration- now the mission’s been extended two years and there’s every reason to think Cassini will still be whizzing around for several years after that. Brilliant, it’s just like the extraordinary durability of the Mars rovers and even the Voyagers which are still returning useful data two decades after their job was done. Fulfilling the original mission goals is the main thing, but these little added bonuses that I like.

  4. Feenixx says

    Now, imagine… if these fresh new thrusters could last another 11 years… well, they probably would, if there was a back-up tank of propellant, too… ah, well, you can’t win them all…

  5. LaunchDirector says

    I work for a company that makes these probes — and we have been making them for many decades. Then we merged with another big company that made similar spacecraft, so it is in my blood.
    It is a tremendously unforgiving business. Emotions run wild, adults can cry like babies, and jump up and down when things go well. Cassini has been a great success…..

  6. jay says

    I too aspire to jump up and down when things go well and cry like a baby. I wanna be in your line of profession Launch Director . I hope I too one day be able to do all those crazy things.
    jay (ze dreamer)

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