Cassini was a probe to study the planet Saturn and its system, including its rings and natural satellites. The Flagship-class robotic spacecraft comprised both NASA’s Cassini probe, and ESA’s Huygens lander which landed on Saturn’s largest moon, Titan. Cassini was the fourth space probe to visit Saturn and the first to enter its orbit.
Cassini’s original mission was planned to last for four years, from 2004 to 2008. The mission was extended for another two years until 2010. The mission was extended a second and final time, lasting another seven years until September 15, 2017, on which date Cassini was de-orbited to burn up in Saturn’s upper atmosphere.
The Huygens lander traveled with Cassini until its separation from the probe on December 25, 2004; it was landed by parachute on Titan on January 14, 2005. It returned data to Earth for around 90 minutes, using the orbiter as a relay. This was the first landing ever accomplished in the outer Solar System and the first landing on a moon other than our own.
At the end of its mission, the Cassini spacecraft executed the “Grand Finale” of its mission: a number of risky passes through the gaps between Saturn and Saturn’s inner rings. The purpose of this phase was to maximise Cassini’s scientific outcome before the spacecraft was disposed. The atmospheric entry of Cassini ended the mission, but analyses of the returned data will continue for many years.