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 hassuffered a malfunction that has shut down all science observations for the timebeing, forcing the probe to skip an upcoming look at Saturn's largest moonTitan, NASA announced this week.

Cassini put itself into a so-called "safe mode"? a hibernation-like state to await commands from Earth ? after experiencing aglitch on Tuesday (Nov. 2) at about 7 p.m. EDT (2300 GMT).?

While in safe mode, Cassini has been beaming updates toEarth on its health, but it has performed no science observations of Saturn andits 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 beable to resume full operations before a planned Nov. 11 flyby of Saturn'smoon Titan," NASA officials said in a Thursday (Nov. 4) statement."But Cassini has 53 more Titanflybys planned in its extended mission, which lasts until 2017."

Safe mode is a precautionary state spacecraft switch toafter encountering problems that cannot be solved by onboard computer commands.This is the sixth time since its 1997 launch that the Cassini spacecraft hasslipped into safe mode, and only the second time while orbiting Saturn, NASAofficials said.

"The spacecraft responded exactly as it should have,and I fully expect that we will get Cassini back up and running with noproblems," said Cassini program manager Bob Mitchell, of NASA's JetPropulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. "Over the more than six years wehave been at Saturn, this is only the second safing event. So considering thecomplexity of demands we have made on Cassini, the spacecraft has performedexceptionally well for us."

Cassini has been orbiting Saturn since 2004 and releasedthe European-built Huygens probe to make a landingon Titan in early 2005. Cassini completed its primary mission in 2008,though the Saturnflight has been extended twice since then.

The Cassini spacecraft is now expected to end its Saturnmission in May 2017.

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