The £2bn Cassini/Huygens spacecraft which was expected to be launched this week contains the culmination of years of research by British universities and industry.
British ejection seat manufacturer Martin-Baker, under its first space contract, has supplied an all new £4m parachute system.
The equipment will be crucial to the Huygens probe by slowing it from Mach 1.5 to Mach 0.5 in 30 seconds, as it spins out from Cassini towards the surface.
British universities will test instruments designed to measure the magnetic field of Saturn, and the chemical and physical composition of the surface of its largest moon, Titan.
Britain’s heavyweights missed out on the lion’s share of the £250m Huygens probe, by losing prime contractor status to Aerospatiale. The French company was believed to have won because of its expertise in missile propulsion technology, something Matra Marconi Space, the Anglo-French hopeful, does not have.
Cassini/Huygens, a joint Nasa/European Space Agency project, will test magnetism on Saturn and the atmosphere on Titan.
Huygens, the European craft, may help explain Earth’s early environment because of its resemblance to Titan’s dense nitrogen and liquid hydrocarbon atmosphere. It will be fuelled by plutonium, because Saturn is too far from the sun for conventional solar array panels to pick up solar radiation.