Oct. 16, 1997 The international Cassini spacecraft mission left Earth bound for Saturn this morning (Oct. 15) atop an Air Force Titan IV/B Centaur rocket in a picture-perfect launch at 4:43 a.m. EDT (1:43 a.m. PDT) from Cape Canaveral, FL.
On time and on schedule for Wednesday's launch opportunity, the Titan solid rocket boosters ignited at the opening of today's launch window, setting the Cassini spacecraft on its nearly seven-year journey to the ringed planet. All milestones during the rocket's ascent occurred as planned, culminating with a successful separation of the Centaur upper stage from the Cassini spacecraft at 42 minutes and 40 seconds into flight. Flying on its own for the first time, the Cassini spacecraft opened its communications link with the NASA Deep Space Network communications complex near Canberra, Australia, about 10 minutes later, or about 52 minutes post launch.
With the European Space Agency's Huygens probe onboard and communicating through a high-gain antenna provided by the Italian Space Agency, Cassini will arrive at Saturn July 1, 2004. The JPL-built Cassini orbiter flies a circuitous but necessary route to reach Saturn. The spacecraft will perform two gravity-assist swingbys of Venus, one of Earth and one of Jupiter to gain enough speed to reach Saturn, which is 1.4 billion kilometers (nearly 1 billion miles) from the Sun.
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