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In its closest flyby yet, the Cassini spacecraft with its Fairchild Imaging (Milpitas, CA) charge coupled device (CCD) image sensors has captured new digital images of Saturn's largest moon, Titan. As part of the ten-year Cassini Huygens mission, sponsored by NASA, the European Space Agency and ASI, the Italian Space Agency, to study Saturn and its moons, the spacecraft will continue to perform flybys on Titan and build up a full map of this distant moon. This is the sixth flyby of Titan and it occurred on April 16.
Cassini passed within 1025 kilometers (637 miles) of Titan at a speed of 6.1 kilometers per second (14,000 miles per hour). Fairchild Imaging CCD imagers, which are components on several of the spacecraft's imaging instruments provided detailed imagery and data about the surface and atmosphere of this moon. Scientists at NASA and other international space agencies hope to gain a better understanding of Earth's atmosphere by studying the similar characteristics of Titan.
The ultra-sensitive CCD image sensors are the "eyes" of the Cassini instruments. The Cassini orbiter and Huygens probe have four instruments that use Fairchild Imaging CCDs. The Imaging Science Subsystem (ISS) on Cassini has two CCD imagers: one on a wide-angle camera and one on a narrow angle camera.
These CCDs are 1024x1024 pixel full-frame devices. The Visible and Infrared Mapping Spectrometer (VIMS), also on Cassini, has a 512x256 pixel frame transfer CCD. This same device is also in the Descent Imager Spectral Radiometer (DISR) on the Huygens probe that has actually landed on Titan.
Each CCD, which is often referred to as a Focal Plane Array (FPA), is a space qualified FPA. To be space qualified, the FPA must have special packaging and testing to ensure that it will survive the harsh environs of space. In addition, these FPAs have been specially treated with lumogen to enhance their response to ultraviolet light.