Washington, June 28 : NASA's Cassini spacecraft is all set to embark on an extended two-year mission that will bring it closer to two of its most intriguing targets - Titan and Enceladus.
On June 30, Cassini completes its four-year prime mission and begins its extended mission, which was approved in April of this year.
Among other things, Cassini revealed the Earth-like world of Saturn's moon Titan and showed the potential habitability of another moon, Enceladus.
These two worlds are primary targets in the two-year extended mission, dubbed the Cassiniquinox Mission.
This time period also will allow for monitoring seasonal effects on Titan and Saturn, exploring new places within Saturn's magnetosphere, and observing the unique ring geometry of the Saturn equinox in August of 2009 when sunlight will pass directly through the plane of the rings.
Cassini launched on October 15, 1997, from Cape Canaveral, Florida, on a seven-year journey to Saturn, traversing 3.5 billion kilometers (2.2 billion miles).
The mission entered Saturn's orbit on June 30, 2004, and began returning stunning data of Saturn's rings almost immediately.
The spacecraft is extremely healthy and carries 12 instruments powered by three radioisotope thermoelectric generators.
Data from Cassini's nominal and extended missions could lay the groundwork for possible future missions to Saturn, Titan or Enceladus.
According to Bob Mitchell, Cassini program manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory, Pasadena, California, "We are incredibly proud to have completed all of the objectives we set out to accomplish when we launched. We answered old questions and raised quite a few new ones and so our journey continues."