The Cassini space mission to Saturn ended in September 2017, making a final approach to the planet's surface with the intention to deliberately disintegrate in the planet's atmosphere. It's mission was to investigate the planet, it's rings and moons and was launched in 1997, taking seven years to make the billion mile journey to the Saturn system. It subsequently coontinued the mission for a further 12 years.
During this time, it used a PMES high performance magnetic sensor as part of its suite of magnetic instrumentation. A Magnetometer was developed by PMES and integrated into the spacecraft by Imperial College London. It was used to measure the magnetic fields generated by Saturn and its moons (the magnetosphere) and the data then transmitted back to Earth for analysis.
The study of Saturn's magnetosphere in such a way has revolutionised man's understanding of the planet, its complex rings, assorted moons and dynamic magnetic environment. Importantly though, some signficant features were noted during the mission, including water jet plumes emanating from the south pole of the Moon Enceladus. Initially detected from the magnetic data, the mission was redirected to fly through the plumes and was able to detect the presence of organics as well as water. As liquid water, a source of energy and organics are the three ingredients essential for the formation of life, Enceladus has now become one of the prime sites in the solar system where life might exist. NASA is now considering a future mission that would fly back to Enceladus to look for alien microbes in the moon's hidden ocean.
Ultra Electronics PMES are proud to have contributed to this feat of space exploration and has provided the magnetic sensors for two further space missions. The Solar Orbiter mission is scheduled for launch in 2019 and will use a series of Venus encounters to make measurements of the Sun's poles. The JUICE (JUpiter ICy moos Explorer) is scheduled for launch in 2022 to explore Jupiter and three of its Icy Moons.