NASA Prepares for Cassini Mission's 'Grand Finale'

06 April, 2017, 02:38 | Author: Lorena Waters
  • NASA Saturn Mission News Conference Live Stream: Cassini 'Grand Finale' Preview

Video NASA's Cassini spacecraft will enter the final stages of its mission by nosediving between Saturn's rings on April 26, before it rams into the planet's atmosphere and vaporizes.

They will direct the spacecraft into Titan's orbit one last time, using it as a slingshot to drive Cassini into the narrow space - 70,000mph into a 12-mile gap - between Saturn's atmosphere and its rings, whose fields of dust and debris could threaten the probe.

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.

Cassini's orbit then will shrink so that instead of making its closest approach to Saturn just outside the rings, it will begin passing between the planet and the inner edge of its rings.

NASA's unmanned Cassini spacecraft is preparing for its final plunge into Saturn later this year, after two decades of helping Earth-bound scientists make new discoveries about the sixth planet from the Sun and its mysterious rings.

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"Because what we've learnt about the Saturnian system, the planet, its rings and its moons, has really rewritten the textbooks", he said.

The exact origin of the rings of Saturn has perplexed astronomers for centuries but, using the latest technology, the pieces of the puzzle are gradually being put together by researchers unattached to the Cassini mission. "We'll end up with no gas in the tank, but at the same time, this is a very serious constraint".

The Cassini spacecraft was launched into space on October 15, 1997 from Cape Canaveral Air Force Station in Florida. For starters, these orbits will bring Cassini closer to Saturn's rings than it has ever been, so it will be able to study their age and composition. In mid-September, following a distant encounter with its moon, Titan, the spacecraft's path will be bent so that it dives into Saturn. As it descends, it will struggle to keep its antenna pointed toward Earth to deliver atmospheric data about the planet's skies and in a matter of minutes, it will burn to a crisp and become one with Saturn.

"Based on our best models, we expect the gap to be clear of particles large enough to damage the spacecraft", according to Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at JPL.

On Tuesday scientists announced the plan for Cassini. NASA chose to incinerate the probe to ensure that it doesn't careen into, and potentially contaminate, Titan or the fellow Saturn moon Enceladus, both of which may be capable of supporting life. "Enceladus has got a warm, salt water ocean, and it's got plumes coming up".


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