The NASA Cassini spacecraft flew 1,171km (730 miles) over the South Pacific Ocean on 17 August, picking up 5.5km/s of speed in the third of four planned fly-bys to place the craft en route to its rendezvous with Saturn in July 2004.

Two Venus fly-bys have been completed and a Jupiter fly-by will be performed next year to provide Cassini with the extra speed it needs to reach Saturn. Cassini and its European Space Agency-built piggyback spacecraft Huygens, which will land on the Saturnian moon Titan, were launched by a Titan IVB-Centaur booster from Cape Canaveral in October 1997.

Nine science instruments on Cassini were operated during the latest fly-by, conducting studies of the earth's magnetic environment and images of the moon. Cassini's primary mission is to conduct close-up studies of Saturn, its rings, moons and magnetic environment, between 2004 and 2008.

Source: Flight International