15 October 1997
ESA's latest and farthest venture into the Solar System began at 10:43 Paris time on 15 October. The American Titan IVB/Centaur launcher sent NASA's large Cassini spacecraft on its way to Saturn. Cassini carries ESA's probe Huygens, as well as the high-gain antenna provided by ASI, the Italian Space Agency. In 2004 ESA's Huygens probe will plunge into the thick atmosphere of Saturn's largest moon, Titan.
About 500 representatives of the scientific, engineering and industrial teams in Europe, which created the Huygens Probe, were present at Cape Canaveral for the Cassini Huygens launch. They saw the powerful boosters of the Titan launcher light up the pre-dawn sky.
The launch sequence concluded with the completion of the second firing and separation of the Centaur upper stage rocket. NASA's ground station at Canberra, Australia, obtained good signals from Cassini an hour after launch.
The European Space Operations Centre (ESOC) at Darmstadt will monitor the condition of the Huygens spacecraft. Their report is expected in 8-10 days'time.
The next major event will be the swingby of Cassini Huygens at Venus on 21 April 1998. This is the first of a sequence of "gravity-assist" operations at Venus, the Earth and Jupiter, to accelerate the spacecraft.