Cassini completed its initial four-year mission to explore the Saturn System in June 2008 and the first extended mission, called the Cassini Equinox Mission, in September 2010. The Cornell Cassini researchers have diligently reviewed and researched the multitude of data provided by the mission. Now, the healthy spacecraft is seeking to make exciting new discoveries in a second extended mission called the Cassini Solstice Mission.
The mission’s extension, which goes through September 2017, is named for the Saturnian summer solstice occurring in May 2017. The northern summer solstice marks the beginning of summer in the northern hemisphere and winter in the southern hemisphere. Since Cassini arrived at Saturn just after the planet's northern winter solstice, the extension will allow for the first study of a complete seasonal period.
Cassini launched in October 1997 with the European Space Agency's Huygens probe. The probe was equipped with six instruments to study Titan, Saturn's largest moon. It landed on Titan's surface on Jan. 14, 2005, and returned spectacular results.
Meanwhile, Cassini's 12 instruments have returned a daily stream of data from Saturn's system since arriving at Saturn in 2004.
Among the most important targets of the mission are the moons Titan and Enceladus, as well as some of Saturn’s other icy moons. Towards the end of the mission, Cassini will make closer studies of the planet and its rings.