Cassini Spacecraft Malfunction Prevents Flyby of Saturn's Moon Titan
This story was updated at 2 p.m. ET.
The Cassini spacecraft in orbit around Saturn has suffered a malfunction that has shut down all science observations for the time being, forcing the probe to skip an upcoming look at Saturn's largest moon Titan, NASA announced this week.
Cassini put itself into a so-called "safe mode" ? a hibernation-like state to await commands from Earth ? after experiencing a glitch on Tuesday (Nov. 2) at about 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT).?
While in safe mode, Cassini has been beaming updates to Earth on its health, but it has performed no science observations of Saturn and its many moons. [Photos: Saturn's rings and moons]
Cassini was scheduled to take a close look at one of those moons, Titan, when it flies by the Saturnian satellite next week. But the recent malfunction will force the Cassini to abandon the science observations during the pass.
"Engineers say it is not likely that Cassini will be able to resume full operations before a planned Nov. 11 flyby of Saturn's moon Titan," NASA officials said in a Thursday (Nov. 4) statement. "But Cassini has 53 more Titan flybys planned in its extended mission, which lasts until 2017."
Safe mode is a precautionary state spacecraft switch to after encountering problems that cannot be solved by onboard computer commands. This is the sixth time since its 1997 launch that the Cassini spacecraft has slipped into safe mode, and only the second time while orbiting Saturn, NASA officials said.
"The spacecraft responded exactly as it should have, and I fully expect that we will get Cassini back up and running with no problems," said Cassini program manager Bob Mitchell, of NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Over the more than six years we have been at Saturn, this is only the second safing event. So considering the complexity of demands we have made on Cassini, the spacecraft has performed exceptionally well for us."
Cassini has been orbiting Saturn since 2004 and released the European-built Huygens probe to make a landing on Titan in early 2005. Cassini completed its primary mission in 2008, though the Saturn flight has been extended twice since then.
The Cassini spacecraft is now expected to end its Saturn mission in May 2017.
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