Huygens lands successfully on Saturn

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Huygens was an atmospheric entry probe that landed successfully on Saturn’s moon Titan in 2005. Built and operated by the European Space Agency (ESA), it was part of the Cassini–Huygens mission and became the first spacecraft to land on Titan and the farthest landing from Earth a spacecraft has ever made. The probe was named after the Dutch 17th-century astronomer Christiaan Huygens, who discovered Titan in 1655.
The combined Cassini–Huygens spacecraft was launched from Earth on October 15, 1997. Huygens separated from the Cassini orbiter on December 25, 2004, and landed on Titan on January 14, 2005 near the Adiri region. This is the only landing accomplished in the outer Solar System. It was also the first landing on a moon other than Earth’s Moon.
Huygens touched down on land, although the possibility that it would touch down in an ocean was also taken into account in its design. The probe was designed to gather data for a few hours in the atmosphere, and possibly a short time at the surface. It continued to send data for about 90 minutes after touchdown. The probe remained dormant throughout the 6.7-year interplanetary cruise, except for semiannual health checks. These checkouts followed preprogrammed descent scenario sequences as closely as possible, and the results were relayed to Earth for examination by system and payload experts. Prior to the probe’s separation from the orbiter on December 25, 2004, a final health check was performed. The “coast” timer was loaded with the precise time necessary to turn on the probe systems (15 minutes before its encounter with Titan’s atmosphere), then the probe detached from the orbiter and coasted in free space to Titan in 22 days with no systems active except for its wake-up timer.
The main mission phase was a parachute descent through Titan’s atmosphere.
The batteries and all other resources were sized for a Huygens mission duration of 153 minutes, corresponding to a maximum descent time of 2.5 hours plus at least 3 additional minutes (and possibly a half-hour or more) on Titan’s surface. The probe’s radio link was activated early in the descent phase, and the orbiter “listened” to the probe for the next three hours, including the descent phase, and the first thirty minutes after touchdown. Not long after the end of this three-hour communication window, Cassini’s high-gain antenna (HGA) was turned away from Titan and towards Earth.
Very large radio telescopes on Earth were also listening to Huygens’ 10-watt transmission using the technique of very long baseline interferometry and aperture synthesis mode. At 11:25 CET on January 14, the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia detected the carrier signal from Huygens. The GBT continued to detect the carrier signal well after Cassini stopped listening to the incoming data stream.
In addition to the GBT, eight of the ten telescopes of the continent-wide VLBA in North America, located at Pie Town and Los Alamos, New Mexico; Fort Davis, Texas; North Liberty, Iowa; Kitt Peak, Arizona; Brewster, Washington; Owens Valley, California; and Mauna Kea, Hawaii, also listened for the Huygens signal.
It was expected that through analysis of the Doppler shifting of Huygens’ signal as it descended through the atmosphere of Titan, wind speed and direction could be determined with some degree of accuracy. A position of Huygens’ landing site on Titan was found with precision (within one km – one km on Titan measures 1.3’ latitude and longitude at the equator) using the Doppler data at a distance from Earth of about 1.2 billion kilometers. The probe landed on the surface of the moon at 10.573°S 192.335°W. A similar technique was used to determine the landing site of the Mars exploration rovers by listening to their telemetry alone.

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