The planetary mission Cassini/Huygens has revealed new information on what our world may have looked like four million years ago. Cassini is currently exploring the Saturn system, studying the atmosphere of Saturn and flying past the moons Enceladus and Titan.
Cassini has found evidence of organic chemicals on Enceladus and is looking for signs of seasonal changes on Titan, the only moon in the solar system which has an atmosphere any may be quite similar to the primeval atmosphere of the Earth.
The spacecraft tandem was launched in October 1997 and reached the Saturnian system in June 2004. The mission is named after the two astronomers Jean Cassini and Christian Huygens. On 14 January 2005 the Huygens probe plunged into the Titan atmosphere to examine its dynamic processes and composition and landed on the moon’s surface. The Cassini mission, originally scheduled to end in July 2008, has been extended until 2017.
Cassini/Huygens is a joint European–US project. The Saturn orbiter Cassini was built in the USA, whereas the Huygens probe was developed and built on behalf of ESA by a European consortium. Thales Alenia Space in France was the prime contractor of the Huygens probe. Airbus Defence and Space in Germany was responsible for the integration of the entire Huygens probe, as well as provision for the internal thermal control subsystem. Airbus Defence and Space in France designed and manufactured the front and after thermal protection system for Huygens’ heat shields, and carried out the aerodynamic specification, trajectory calculations and the probe's parachute braking system. Airbus Defence and Space in Spain delivered the probe’s internal structure.