NASA's Cassini spacecraft set for grand finale, to be disposed off in Saturn atmosphere

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Reddit
  • Flipboard
  • Email
  • WhatsApp
Cassini's spacecraft: Nasa reveals 'grand finale' plans for end of 20-year Saturn mission
Cassini's spacecraft: Nasa reveals 'grand finale' plans for end of 20-year Saturn mission

New Delhi : NASA's Cassini mission is currently on its last leg and is inching toward its graceful finish in 2017. NASA is giving us a preview of this 'Grand Finale' right now, as key scientists discuss the final movements of the Cassini spacecraft live on NASA TV. NASA's Cassini spacecraft has been traveling and exploring for two decades and has reached its final days.

On Tuesday, Nasa scientists unveiled their plan for the storied Cassini spacecraft, and their reasoning for driving Cassini to its own destruction: with the spacecraft running out of fuel, they do not want to risk it crashing into and contaminating Saturn’s moons, where there may be conditions for alien life. 

NASA's Cassini spacecraft has done a hero's work since arriving at Saturn in 2004, but the aging spacecraft is reaching the end of its life.

The Cassini spacecraft will spend the next five months sending data back to Earth on its final flyby of Titan, Saturn's largest moon, and dives it will complete between the planet and its rings. It will then burn up in Saturn's atmosphere in its final mission. 

According to NASA, the spacecraft will follow a series of orbits that bring it between Saturn and its rings until finally it will plunge into the planet's atmosphere and die. The first of these dives is planned for April 26, and after those dives are completed, Cassini will plunge into Saturn's upper atmosphere on September 15.

NASA is hoping Cassini spacecraft  will survive long enough for 22 dives inside the rings, revealing details about the their age and composition. But if a ring particle hits Cassini, it could bring the mission to an premature end because the spacecraft will be traveling at more than 70,000 miles per hour (112,654 kph).

The 20-year-old Cassini spacecraft has been investigating the ringed planet for 13 years, thereby providing scientists with numerous insights into Saturn's structure and evolution.

In its season of 'lasts', NASA's Cassini spacecraft made its final close approach to Mimas on January 30, 2017. At closest approach, Cassini passed 25,620 miles (41,230 kilometers) from Mimas. During its mission, Cassini made close approaches to Mimas only seven flybys at distances of less than 31,000 miles (50,000 kilometers).

In this interactive visualization, you can ride along with the Cassini spacecraft at any time during the entire mission, a period of 20 years! For example, watch the arrival at Saturn on July 1st, 2004, or see Cassini launch the Huygens probe and follow it to Titan, the largest moon of Saturn.  

You can see where Cassini was when it captured iconic images, and you can compare the real images to the visualization. You can even ride along with Cassini during its final 20 orbits, in which it zips between Saturn and its rings -- a place no spacecraft has explored before. And you can watch these things happen at actual speed, or much, much faster.

Input from NASA and Agencies