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Space Science

Huygens Probe Prepares for Saturn Moon Landing 273

Nathan writes "A probe is about to land on one of Saturn's 35 moons, Titan. The probe is a collaboration with NASA, the European Space Agency and Italy's space program. The probe is apparently about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle. This landing should lead scientists toward new information about the atmosphere and the magnetosphere."
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Huygens Probe Prepares for Saturn Moon Landing

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  • Good luck! (Score:2, Insightful)

    by patdabiker ( 710704 )
    I wish everybody involved good luck
  • Probe size (Score:5, Funny)

    by TWX ( 665546 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:39AM (#11357219)
    "The probe is apparently about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle."

    An original Beetle, or a Super Beetle? Or even a new water-cooled "New Beetle"?

    With the Italian involvement, wouldn't comparing it to a Volkswagen Scirocco be more appropriate?

    at least the probe isn't being compared to a Ford Probe...
    • Clearly it's not the new Beetle, as the cold temperatures on Titan would freeze the engine coolant.
      • there's only one beetle measurement. And the fact that Titan is filthier than 200 toilets makes this a bad mission. Why does no one mention this?
    • How much do these differ in size... Really?
    • by xtermin8 ( 719661 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @01:53AM (#11358067)
      You will find very many popular science articles that use the Beetle as a standard of measurement. Most often as a weight measurement. This may have something to do with the budgets of science teachers through the last half of the 20th century. As many of them could not afford a newer model Beetle, we can safely assume its the old one.
    • by Waffle Iron ( 339739 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @02:06AM (#11358211)
      An original Beetle, or a Super Beetle? Or even a new water-cooled "New Beetle"?

      After NASA's previous troubles with imperial measurements, I'm glad to see that they're moving to standard pop-scientific units. The standard unit of volume is based on the Super Beetle, since that was the current model when this benchmark first came into widespread use.

      BTW, the standard Beetle has recently been redefined in terms of human hair; it is now defined as exactly 1.374569443*10^14 cubic human hair widths. The length of a football field and the distance from New York to San Francisco have similarly been redefined as hair multiples. These recent harmonizations will help bring a new consistency to science news stories across all media outlets.

      • And, the standard unit for area could be the area of hard drive that a Library Of Congress covers, on a specific hard drive, or maybe the most recent hard drive.

        Wouldn't that be fun:
        "These darn units keep shrinking"

        Actually, my biggest pet peeve is using a number in the thousands or millions infront of a unit that has a kilo or mega.
        "several thousand kilometers" instead of "several megameters"
        if you are trying to dumb things down, why use a prefix on the unit at all? For example, "several million meters".
      • So how many Volkswagen Beetles fit into one Volkswagen bus?

        Seriously, these new units have me confused.
    • by Siener ( 139990 )
      In keeping with the space theme, wouldn't it be better to say that it's about the size of a Ford Prefect? [wikipedia.org]

  • I sure hope they have insurance.

    Oh, and just for clarification, how many Libraries of Congress are there in a VW Beetle?
  • I hope we can find decent parking.
  • by John Miles ( 108215 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:45AM (#11357308) Homepage Journal
    ... at SpaceFlight Now [spaceflightnow.com]

    It'd be worth staying up for, but the last time I did that, I jinxed the Mars Polar Lander. :(

    If the Huygens timeline executes as planned, it will rank among the coolest engineering achievements in history. It will also have happened thanks to one guy who kept his eye on the ball [ieee.org] when nobody else was paying attention.
    • Getting up early for, here... the lo cal science museum is doing live coverage in the CyberDome (though somehow I doubt the projection is actually going to be in the round, more's the pity). 5 am local time.

      I almost feel like I should get up early for it, it being one of the few astronomical events we don't have to worry about cloud cover for. (If not for the four-year-old, we might. He's a proto-geek, but that'd be pushing it.)
    • by wallitron ( 308146 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @01:23AM (#11357783) Homepage
      Nice save.

      "In short: Cassini is at Saturn, and about to launch the Huygens probe into Titan's atmosphere (splashdown 14th January 2005). The communication link between Huygens and Cassini was not thoroughly tested before launch. Some thoughtful engineer realised this might be a problem, and after some pushing against resistance, managed to test Cassini's response to how they expect the signal from Huygens to look. Surprise suprise, Houston we have a problem. Turns out, the original engineers took account of doppler shift in the carrier wave, but not in the encoded data. D'oh! Problem is encoded in firmware, can't be fixed after launch. Double d'oh! So instead, they've altered Cassini's trajectory to eliminate the doppler shift. Hurrah for Boris Smeds!"

      http://gimbo.org.uk/archives/2005/01/boris_smeds_v s.html [gimbo.org.uk]
    • When I watched this launch I remember wondering what I'd be doing in January 2005. It seemed like so far in the future back in 1997. Meanwhile that spaceraft has been getting further and futher away from us, travelling thousands of miles an hour, and now we're only a few hours from touchdown on a distant moon.

      How totally exciting, to be here in the future :-)
      • How totally exciting, to be here in the future :-)

        Your are guilty of temporal violation. Please remain where you are! Time police are making there way to you now. Don't try sneaking back to your own time either ... we where already be.. there... ummm...
    • The Planetary Society's Emily Lakdawalla is running a weblog [planetary.org] from Huygens [planetary.org] mission control in Darmstadt, Germany. This weblog will be updated as events happen, so it should be interesting to watch.

      It also looks like NASA TV will have live coverage [nasa.gov] for much of Friday. You can access their video and audio streams here [nasa.gov].
    • by wass ( 72082 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @03:27AM (#11358813)
      Wow, that IEEE link one was one of the most informative links I've come across on slashdot, pretty illuminating. It's amazing that the communication system wasn't fully tested. Here's a few quotes for those too lazy to read the article (a bit long) about the problem that a Swedish ESA engineer caught, while everybody else (NASA + ESA) didn't want to consider it.

      It's a real shame that the private Italian subcontractor didn't allow transparency in the plans for the transmitter. I mean, this is a SCIENCE mission, not a competition for profits. (The company viewed NASA as their competitor, and the transmitter as proprietary).

      The board discovered that Alenia Spazio SpA, the Rome-based company that built the radio link, had properly anticipated the need to make the receiver sensitive over a wide enough range of frequencies to detect Huygens's carrier signal even when Doppler shifted. But it had overlooked another subtle consequence: Doppler shift would affect not just the frequency of the carrier wave that the probe's vital observations would be transmitted on but also the digitally encoded signal itself. In effect, the shift would push the signal out of synch with the timing scheme used to recover data from the phase-modulated carrier.

      Because of Doppler shift, the frequency at which bits would be arriving from Huygens would be significantly different from the nominal data rate of 8192 bits per second. As the radio wave from the lander was compressed by Doppler shift, the data rate would increase as the length of each bit was reduced.

      Although the receiver's decoder could accommodate small shifts in the received data rate, it was completely out of its league here. The incoming signal was doomed to be chopped up into chunks that didn't correspond to the actual data being sent, and as a result the signal decoder would produce a stream of binary junk. The situation would be like trying to watch a scrambled TV channel--the TV's tuned in fine, but you still can't make out the picture.

      Alenia Spazio wasn't alone in missing the impact Doppler shift would have on the decoder. All the design reviews of the communications link, including those conducted with NASA participation, also failed to notice the error that would threaten to turn Huygens's moment of glory into an embarrassing failure.

      Alenia Spazio's insistence on confidentiality may have played a role in this oversight. NASA reviewers were never given the specs of the receiver. As JPL's Mitchell explained to Spectrum, "Alenia Spazio considered JPL to be a competitor and treated the radio design as proprietary data."

      JPL's Horttor admitted that NASA probably could have insisted on seeing the design if it had agreed to sign standard nondisclosure agreements, but NASA didn't consider the effort worthwhile, automatically assuming Alenia Spazio would compensate for the changing data rate.

    • Thank you for the very interesting SpaceFlight Now [spaceflightnow.com] link. The best line I found in that article was this:
      "I've been involved in this mission almost 21 years," said Lebreton.

      Something about that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Goodness knows how he feels today!

      • Something about that makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand on end. Goodness knows how he feels today!

        I've got a copy of the ESA Bulletin journal from either January or February 1985 which was given to me years ago by a friend of the family - and one of the main articles is about the Huygens probe, in a form very similar to the final version launched in 1997. I think I ought to scan the article and post it online, just to give people an indication of how thoroughly planned these projects are. Unfort
  • by ZiZ ( 564727 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:45AM (#11357309) Homepage
    The Cassini-Huygens mission is an unprecedented $3.3-billion effort between NASA, the European Space Agency and Italy's space program to study Saturn and its 33 known moons.

    I didn't know Italy had a space program, though I suppose it makes sense.

    "It's really very cold." ... Temperatures hover around -292 F (-180 C) ...

    And the understatement award of the year goes to...Candice Hansen, a scientist for the Cassini-Huygens mission!

  • What gets to me about this is the fact that we will truly be seeing something that no human being has ever seen before... I just hope that everything works according to plan...and that they land with a splash instead of a thud :)
  • by Jaidon ( 843279 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:49AM (#11357356)
    "The probe is apparently about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle"

    called "Herbie the Love Probe." Wait...that doesn't sound right. It won't be a TV movie, it'll be the new hot pr0n on satellite. It'll certainly be easy to transmit!

    I'm so going to hell now.

  • Here is a Countdown (Score:5, Informative)

    by mowler2 ( 301294 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:51AM (#11357378)
    Here [esa.int] is the official ESA countdown! At the moment, it's only 4 hours left! :) However, after landing, it will take another 5 hours before the data starts coming in, and we know wether it was a success or a failure.

    In the application, you can also fastforward and see what Cassini does in the coming years.

  • by yuriwho ( 103805 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @12:56AM (#11357443)
    please join our irc channel #space on irc.freenode.net

    This channel is devoted to discussion of space science, current, past and future space missions.

    This channel is frequented by a lot of knowledgeable folk. And please keep the discussion on topic ;-)

  • Not just images... (Score:4, Interesting)

    by YrWrstNtmr ( 564987 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @01:01AM (#11357513)
    but hopefully audio as well.
    From SpaceflightNow [spaceflightnow.com]
    "Also among the expected post-landing data are sounds from a microphone that might capture the rustling of frigid nitrogen winds or lapping waves."
  • I wonder if they'll find Alex WildStar's missile ship #17... Perhaps, they'll even find his gun. Watch out for the Gamelon tank...

    If you don't what I'm talking about, then you've probably never had the pleasure of watching the "Star Blazers" series... I used to run home from the school bus stop to watch it...


    • Hurray! Ah, that brings back the memories... Yes, Wildstar found his brother's ship on Titan...

      But how did Alex manage to travel all the way to Iscandar without the help of FTL drive, or warp technology? It took the Star Force the better part of year to get there.

  • After using Adblock in Firefox to block half a dozen ad iframes, that website that the article links to is pretty stark. Almost boring. I nearly had to turn the ads back on.
  • They can just say it's another "Deep Impact [theregister.co.uk]" probe.

    Nobody would even know :-D
  • >> The probe is a collaboration with NASA, the
    >> European Space Agency

    Oh, boy, this will be a hard landing then. NASA shoulds send rovers to repair this thing after it "lands".
  • "I for one welcome our Earthly overlords..."
  • Good luck (Score:2, Funny)

    by g0dsp33d ( 849253 )
    Hats off to NASA for the 2 rovers, lets hope we learn as much from this. Scary thought, Windows Space Probe Edition. Huygens: image source = bl_scr01.jpg NASA: Crap.
  • A probe is about to land on one of Saturn's 35 moons, Titan ... The probe is apparently about the size of a Volkswagen Beetle.

    Let's hope the probe's designers had lots of Landingvergnugen.

  • by zennor ( 802932 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @01:15AM (#11357685)

    The data transmitted by Huygens will be uploaded to the Cassini spaceprobe and then transmitted by Cassini back to Earth several times. This data will be received by the NASA DSN dishes such as that a Tidbinbilla near Canberra in Australia.

    Separate to this will be a unique experimental observation organised by JIVE, the Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe that will involve 17 radio telescopes around the world including the Parkes dish in NSW. They will monitor the weak signal of the Huygens probe directly to detct any doppler shift in the signal. Using VLBI (Very Long Baseline Interferometry) astronomers hope to be able to pinpoint the entry of Huygens into Titan's atmosphere to within 1 km. As it descends under parachute they also hope to use doppler shifts to measure the speed of the wind at different levels in the atmosphere. Should be an interesting observation.

    (Disclaimer; I work for one of the institutes involved in this experiment)

  • www.esa.int (Score:5, Informative)

    by dolmen.fr ( 583400 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @05:41AM (#11359527) Homepage
    I won't blame anyone who hasn't RTFA for this news, because here is the really interesting link: the ESA (European Space Agency) portal [esa.int].
    A 346 words article from India Daily is not the most relevant for an ESA project.

    I hope /. moderators would care a bit more when posting news. Recently the interesting links were often missing. A link to a press agency article may be interesting to some, but we have other sources for that. I expect a bit more from a /. news: the poster should at list post links to official sites with deeper information.
  • by EdibleEchidna ( 468353 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @08:03AM (#11360066)
    According to ESA's website [esa.int]: The Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope (GBT) in West Virginia, USA, a part of the global network of radio telescopes involved in tracking the Huygens Titan probe, has detected the probe's carrier signal.

    This means that the probe survived the entry (heat-shield) phase of the descent and the main parachute opened, but we still have to wait for the main part of the show...
  • The probe is alive ! (Score:3, Interesting)

    by mbone ( 558574 ) on Friday January 14, 2005 @11:09AM (#11361583)
    Good News from Titan !

    The Great Big Telescope (officially the Robert C. Byrd Green Bank Telescope) at Green Bank, West Virginia has detected [esa.int] the carrier signal from the Huygens probe.

    This means that the spacecraft is alive, has made it through re-entry, and the parachute has deployed.

    A total of 17 radio telescopes here on Earth are tracking [esa.int] the Huygens probe, using a technique called Very Long Baseline Interferometry, or VLBI [nasa.gov]. Using phase referenced VLBI, it should be possible to track the Huygens descent to within about a kilometer on Titan, and to get descent velocities to within a few millimeters / second along the line of site. This will give us a pretty good idea of the winds that the probe encounters as it descends, and also should really nail down the rotation of Titan if the probe makes it to the surface. Here [www.oan.es] is a more detailed description (pdf file) of what's being done using VLBI from Leonid Gurvits.

    While this does not mean that the Huygens mission is a full success (I personally want pictures from the surface!), it does mean that some scientific data will be returned. I can't wait to see more.

"Let every man teach his son, teach his daughter, that labor is honorable." -- Robert G. Ingersoll