Description of the payload

This was a special full-sized model of the Huygens Probe, designated SM2 and constructed to simulate a drop test of descent of the HUYGENS probe in the framework of the NASA/ESA CASSINI/HUYGENS mission that descended on Titan in November 2004.

The specific objectives of the drop test were to demonstrate the descent sequence under dynamic conditions, the functioning of the descent subsystem, including the deployment, inflation, drag coefficient, structural strength and stability of the parachutes, the operation of the parachute deployment device, separation of the back cover, separation of the front shield and operation of the parachute jettisoning mechanism, the functioning of the spin vanes under the stabilising drogue chute and to provide the data needed to correlate predictions with flight results.

The external shape of the SM2 Probe is almost identical to that of the flight model that descended into Titan's atmosphere.

The inner structure is built to flight-standard, as are the back-cover and front- shield release mechanisms and the descent control sub-system.

A special bracket was added to interface the Probe and the gondola to allow a pyrotechnic separation, with umbilical separation provided by a lanyard.

The Huygens Probe System Drop Test took place on 14 May 1995

All of the Probe's systems functioned perfectly during the descent and was operational after landing and good data were transmitted to ground via the gondola, which had a much longer descent time.

All three flight parachutes - pilot, main and stabiliser - deployed cleanly and inflated very positively. Pilot- and main-chute inflation occurred at Mach 0.8, at a dynamic pressure representative of conditions on Titan. The parachute deployment and inflation times were as predicted, and the drag coefficients were also within specification.

Detailed analysis of the film taken confirmed that there was no post-separation contact between the Probe and its back cover or front shield. The back-cover separation was slightly faster than predicted, due to a lower Probe wake recirculation (subsonic) compared with the predicted Titan-entry case (supersonic). The front shield's separation showed good correlation between predictions and flight results.

Although the individual parachutes and mechanisms had already been tested extensively at subsystem and system level, the SM2 Probe Drop Test demonstrated the descent sequence under realistic dynamic conditions for the first time and has thereby provided the necessary total confidence regarding the flight-model Probe's successful descent into Titan's atmosphere in November 2004.

Details of the balloon flight and scientific outcome

Launch site: European Space Range, Kiruna, Sweden  
Balloon launched by: Centre National d'Etudes Spatiales (CNES)
Balloon manufacturer/size/composition: Open balloon model 400z 400.000 m3
Balloon serial number: 400Z Nº 59
Campaign: HUYGENS  
Payload weight: 1.086 kgs
Gondola weight: 731 kgs

The balloon was launched at 8.15 local time on 14th May 1995, using the dynamic method with help of auxiliary balloons.

After an nominal ascent phase the Probe was released from the gondola at 11.09 local time from an altitude of 37.4 km.

The descent module landing occured at 11.27 and the craft was in good shape and operational once on the ground.

The Probe and the gondola were both recovered and flown back by helicopter to the launch site the same day; the front shield and back cover were located the same day, but were recovered the following day.

External references and bibliographical sources

Images of the mission

The special shaped gondola constructed to allow the HUYGENS probe separation in flight View of the flight line before the launch Initial ascent phase The gondola after landing The probe on landing site