First of all, it’s big. In fact, it is one of the largest interplanetary spacecraft ever built, and the third heaviest unmanned spacecraft ever launched into space.
The spacecraft is about the same size as a 30-passenger school bus. It weighs roughly 5,650 kg (6 tons), more than half of which is rocket fuel.
It is also about 4 meters (13.1 feet) wide. So wide that it would take about seven people with arms outstretched to encircle the spacecraft.
Cassini has 12 high-tech instruments capable of 27 different science investigations. To operate them, the spacecraft has an elaborate electronic system that consists of more than 12 kilometers (almost 7.5 miles) of cabling, some 20,000 wire connections and 1,630 interconnect circuits.
The spacecraft communicates with Earth through the Deep Space Network’s largest antennas, which are up to 70 meters (230 feet) in diameter.
In some ways, the spacecraft has senses better than our own. It can “see” in wavelengths of light and energy that the human eye cannot. In addition, instruments onboard can “feel” things about magnetic fields and tiny dust particles that no human hand could detect.
Cassini-Huygens is an international collaboration between three space agencies. Seventeen nations contributed to building the spacecraft. The Cassini spacecraft was built and managed by NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory. The Huygens probe was built by the European Space Agency. More than 250 scientists worldwide will study the data collected.
The Italian Space agency built the high-gain communication antenna. The antenna can transmit in four frequencies at the same time, and it was even used as an umbrella! That was done to protect the instruments from the strong sunrays during the early part of the mission — when Cassini was closer to the Sun. That’s why the antenna is painted white!