Todd Barber, Cassini Lead Propulsion Engineer
Greetings again from Cassini engineering, as we are literally a day away from our date with destiny and a super-close Enceladus flyby. Another engineering event, critical for the health and safety of the spacecraft, has gone off without a hitch. Earlier this morning, around 4 am Pacific Daylight Time (PDT), we closed (or deployed, in our nomenclature) the main-engine cover. As we planned to head in closer to Saturn and Enceladus, we recognized the potential for a slight dust hazard, not uncommon during our multi-year orbital tour of the ringed planet. Even with minute dust grains, our delicate main-engine columbium coating could be damaged with hypervelocity impacts, so occasionally we have to deploy our “baby-carriage” cover to protect our twin main engines.
Our thermal control and devices team reports to me yet another successful deployment of the main-engine cover, an event that has taken place roughly three dozen times since launch over ten years ago. I can usually tell when this happens as a propulsion engineer because the closing of the cover helps to warm up the area around the engines, causing the temperature readings I monitor to increase. After the dust hazard is behind us, we’ll again open (or stow) the main-engine cover, although this will occur around 7 pm PDT on Wednesday. In other words, this event will occur after the thrilling E3 flyby, an important engineering event to be sure, but likely one that will be buried in the excitement of the prospect of new Enceladus science results mere hours away.