All you need to know about NASA's Cassini spacecraft

Frederick Owens
September 16, 2017

The Cassini spacecraft is set to end its 13-year mission to Saturn by transmitting data until it plunges into the ringed planet's atmosphere.

Nasa's Saturn probe Cassini is ending its twenty year mission by plummeting into the atmosphere of the second-biggest planet in the solar system and burning up in its atmosphere.

The close flybys allowed Cassini to take high-resolution images and collect data on Saturn's auroras, temperature and vortexes at the planet's poles. Early on Friday, Cassini plunged into Saturn's atmosphere, but it sent back one final image before its destruction.

During 22 such passes over about five months, the spacecraft's altitude above Saturn's clouds varied from about 1,600 to 4,000 kilometres, thanks to occasional distant passes by Titan that shifted the closest approach distance.

"This is the final chapter of an fantastic mission, but it's also a new beginning", said Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate, in a statement sent to CNBC. Cassini found that both the fresh coating on its surface, and icy material in the E ring originate from vents connected to a global subsurface saltwater ocean that might host hydrothermal vents.

This unprocessed image of the Saturn system was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on September 13, 2017. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute) As it glanced around the Saturn system one final time, NASA's Cassini spacecraft captured this view of the planet's giant moon Titan.

The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini (e-Book)

The mission's final calculations predict loss of contact with the Cassini spacecraft will take place on Friday at 7.55 a.m. EDT (5.25 pm Friday India time).

Cassini project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory Earl Maize said, "The spacecraft's final signal will be like an echo".

The spacecraft's explosive end was about more than simply alien health and safety however - with Cassini project scientist Dr Linda Spilker excited about what can be learned from the probes final transmissions. They, therefore, maneuvered the probe to perform its merry-go-round flight through the planet's rings since its momentum and Saturn's gravity would keep Cassini moving despite almost running out of propellant.

It also delivered the Huygens probe to Titan, becoming the first spacecraft to land in the outer solar system.

Today completed the last journey of the probe "Cassini".

The Cassini mission represents more than one generation of work at NASA and ESA, with development beginning in the 1980s. It's an unbelievable opportunity to make a new discovery at ringed world, something Cassini has been doing consistently for 13 years in orbit.

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