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Cassini picks up speed around Venus again

Artist conception of the Cassini spacecraft   

June 25, 1999
Web posted at: 12:20 p.m. EDT (1620 GMT)

PASADENA, California (CNN) -- NASA's Cassini spacecraft completed its second pass by Venus to pick up momentum and speeded ahead Friday on its 618th day of its seven-year flight to Saturn.

Cassini flew within 600 km (370 miles) of the planet at 4:30 p.m. EST on Thursday, with Venus' gravity giving the spacecraft a speed boost to help it reach Saturn, more than 1 billion km. (620 million miles) away.

The craft's instruments were turned on during the fly-by to make observations of Venus, and those data will be returned to Earth in the coming days.

Four fly-bys of planets - two of Venus and one each of Earth and Jupiter - will help "slingshot" Cassini to Saturn. Cassini first flew by Venus on April 26, 1998, at a distance of 284 km (176 miles).

The spacecraft was launched on October 15, 1997, and is set to fly by Earth Aug. 17, 1999. Cassini will pass at a distance of 1,166 km. (724 miles). Then it's on to Jupiter for a December 30, 2000, fly by. The giant planet's gravity will bend Cassini's flight path to put it on course for arrival into orbit around Saturn on July 1, 2004.

Cassini's mission is to study the ringed planet, its magnetic and radiation environment, moons and rings for four years. The last of NASA's big-budget missions, Cassini also will drop a European Space Agency (ESA) probe to the surface of Saturn's moon Titan.

That moon is suspected to have some Earth-like characteristics, including a mostly nitrogen atmosphere and the presence of organic molecules in its atmosphere and on its surface. Lakes or seas of ethane and methane may slosh around on its surface.

Cassini is a joint effort of NASA, the ESA and the Italian Space Agency. The mission is managed by NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, where the spacecraft was built.

In-Depth Special: Journey to Saturn - The Cassini Mission

Review: 'Deep Time'
March 25, 1999
NASA expects to get Cassini back on track soon
January 15, 1999
Cassini spacecraft swings by Venus
April 26, 1998

NASA Jet Propulsion Laboratory
   • NASA - Cassini: Mission to Saturn
ESA Science
Italian Space Agency
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