Australian telescopes ready
for historic space mission

12 January



Radio telescopes of CSIRO and the University of Tasmania stand ready to follow
the European Space Agency's Huygens probe as it plummets through the clouds
of Saturn's moon Titan, late on Friday night (14 January) Australian time.

Shortly after 9 pm AEDT the probe will start its descent through the clouds
of Titan, 1.2 billion kilometres from Earth. Using a special technique called
VLBI, a network of 17 radio telescopes in Australia, the USA, China and Japan
will attempt to determine its entry point to within a kilometre.

As it parachutes down, the Huygens probe will transmit data to its parent Cassini
orbiter. The ground-based telescopes will eavesdrop on the probe's signal.

The goal is to track the probe's speed and position as it falls, to learn about
the winds in Titan's atmosphere.

The Australian radio telescopes taking part are:

  • CSIRO's Parkes radio telescope (near Parkes, NSW)
  • CSIRO's Mopra telescope (near Coonabarabran, NSW)
  • CSIRO's Australia Telescope Compact Array (near Narrabri, NSW)
  • The University of Tasmania's Mount Pleasant Observatory (Hobart, Tasmania)
  • The University of Tasmania's Ceduna antenna (Ceduna, South Australia).

This experiment is being coordinated by JIVE, the Joint Institute for VLBI
in Europe. It is separate from the tracking of the probe's parent Cassini spacecraft,
which will be done by NASA's Deep Space Communication Network (including the
Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex at Tidbinbilla, ACT).

The probe's signal will be extremely weak - so weak that the observers using
the telescopes won't be able to tell if they've captured it successfully. "We'll
only know if the experiment has worked after the data is sent to JIVE and they
analyse it," says CSIRO's Dr Chris Phillips, who is coordinating the Australian

Dr Phillips will be observing at the CSIRO's Australia Telescope Compact Array
near Narrabri. His observations will finish at 3.30 am. At 4 am he will take
his data disks and board a plane, chartered by JIVE, that will take him first
to Coonabarabran then to Parkes, where the data from those CSIRO telescopes
will be brought to meet the plane. He'll reach Sydney's Bankstown airport by
7 am. By 8 am, he'll be in the Sydney headquarters of CSIRO's Australia Telescope
National Facility, transmitting the data to JIVE in The Netherlands.

The data will travel to Europe along what is effectively a direct high-speed
(gigabit) link, thanks to the help of organisations in four countries. The connection,
coordinated through AARNet (Australia's Academic and Research Network), is a
joint effort of AARNet and CeNTIE (the Centre for Networking Technologies for
the Information Economy)in Australia; the Trans-Pacific Optical Research Testbed
(SXTransPORT) provided by Southern Cross Cable Network; the University of Washington
in Seattle, USA; Canada's internet development organisation CANARIE; the MANLAN
facility in New York; and the academic research network SURFnet in The Netherlands.

"It's the first time this kind of experiment has been carried out at these
capacities going more than half way around the world," says Mr George McLaughlin,
Director of International Developments for AARNet.

Seventeen countries are contributing to the Cassini-Huygens mission. The Huygens
probe is supplied by the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Cassini orbiter
by NASA. Huygens operations will be controlled by ESA from its operations centre
in Darmstadt, Germany. NASA is providing the mission operations and telecommunications
through its Deep Space Network of antennas, which includes the Canberra Deep
Space Communications Complex at Tidbinbilla.




Dr Chris Phillips, Bolton Fellow, CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility

(Coordinator of the Australian observations)

At the CSIRO Australia Telescope Compact Array, Narrabri NSW, during the experiment

Observatory main number: 02-6790-4000

Mobile: 0439-487-601


Dr John Reynolds, Officer-in-Charge, CSIRO Parkes Observatory

Office: 02-6861-1733

Observatory main number: 02-6861-1700

Mobile: 0413-026-998


Dr Tasso Tzioumis, CSIRO Australia Telescope National Facility

At the CSIRO Mopra telescope during the experiment

Observatory main number: 02-6849-1801

Mobile: 0409-447-902


Dr Melanie Johnston-Hollitt, University of Tasmania

Office: 03-6226-2446

Home: 03-6225-4334


Professor John Dickey, University of Tasmania

At the Ceduna telescope during the experiment

Telescope control room: 08-8624-1501

Telescope general number: 08-8624-1500

AARNet, Australia

George McLaughlin

Director, International Developments, AARNet

Office: 02-6222-3531

Mobile: 0411-256-370

Home office: 02-4849-4315

JIVE, The Netherlands

Dr Leonid Gurvits, Project Manager, Huygens VLBI tracking experiment

Joint Institute for VLBI in Europe, Dwingeloo, The Netherlands

Office: +31 (0)521 596514



ESA's Cassini-Huygens website

NASA's Cassini-Huygens website


TV broadcast material

CSIRO will film the observations at the Parkes telescope on 14 January. This
footage can be made available for TV news reports. For details, contact:

Phil McLelland

0412-635-190 (mob.) 6360-4662 (home)

ESA-TV will broadcast Huygen's descent into Titan live on 14/15 January.

Details of the broadcast are posted at . A package
of 15 minutes of images, including 3-D graphics, is available from today for
global distribution. To obtain this, contact:

Claus Habfast

Television Executive Producer

Tel +31 71 565 3838

Fax +31 71 565 5728

NASA animations of the Cassini-Huygens mission, suitable for broadcast, are
available from:

Glen Nagle

Canberra Deep Space Communications Complex

02-6201-7838 (office)