Mission accomplished for Alcatel-built Huygens space probe - a world first!
14 January 2005
After separating from the Cassini spacecraft on December 25, Huygens made a successful landing on Titan, Saturn's largest moon.
The Huygens space probe has arrived on Titan. The probe was built by prime contractor Alcatel Space, a subsidiary of Alcatel (Paris: CGEP.PA and NYSE: ALA), leading a consortium of 40 companies and laboratories. Alcatel Space is the first European company to have met the challenge of constructing a spacecraft designed to resist such draconian conditions. This is the first time that a man-made object has landed on the moon of a planet so far away in our solar system. This is also the first time that an European probe has successfully landed on another part of the solar system.
The interplanetary voyage of Cassini/Huygens took seven years, and made use of successive gravity boosts from Venus (twice), the Earth and Jupiter. Huygens had to stand up to temperatures of 212°F near Venus, and made a blind crossing of the asteroid belt between Mars and Jupiter, then the rings of Saturn. However, the technical challenge reached its zenith during the descent towards Titan, which lasted nearly three weeks after the separation from the Cassini mother-craft on December 25. Following aerodynamic braking in the upper atmosphere, then deployment of three parachutes to control the descent, the probe landed on the surface of Titan. Huygens is a veritable flying lab, featuring six advanced instruments to carry out all measurements expected by the scientific community.
Meanwhile, Cassini is in orbit around Saturn for its own observation mission, while relaying data from Huygens back to Earth.
The Cassini/Huygens programs was an unprecedented technical challenge, tackling aspects that had never before been studied:
· Major restrictions on mass and energy, given the distance to be traveled and the complex trajectory needed to reach Saturn via gravity boosts form Venus, Earth and Jupiter.
· Completely autonomous operation.
· High-precision Cassini/Huygens separation maneuvers.
· Thermal shield adapted to an entry into Titan's atmosphere.
· Parachute deployment at supersonic speed.
· Sufficient robustness to stand up to unknown elements, especially atmospheric (furthermore, scientists have continuously changed their models since the knowledge of Titan was increased, which required an important effort to ensure successful entry).
"We are especially proud of this huge success by our customer ESA, in partnership with NASA and ASI," said Pascale Sourisse, Chairman and CEO of Alcatel Space. "Not only is it a world first in exploration of the universe, it also marks a major step forward in better understanding the origins of life. With the Huygens mission now accomplished, we want to reaffirm our unyielding commitment to carrying out the most demanding programs for interplanetary exploration and observation of the universe, alongside European scientists and space agencies. We hope that this mission will pave the way to other adventures that prove to be just as exciting, both scientifically and technologically."
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