Friday, 24 November, 2017

Cassini's 13-year mission ends in crash

Richard Wilson Richard Wilson
Dexter Carr | 16 September, 2017, 00:11

Cassini was put on a course to plunge through Saturn's atmosphere and vaporise like a meteor at the end of its 20-year journey exploring the planet.

Launched in 1997, the 3.26 billion US dollar Cassini-Huygens mission has been touring the Saturn system since arriving there in 2004. The Cassini mission gave scientists an unprecedented view of the sixth planet from the Sun. It was a billion miles aways when it crashed on Saturn, a gas giant 764 times larger than Earth by volume.

"One of the most attractive planets we can imagine", Dr. Thomas Zurbuchen said of Saturn during a press briefing.

In fact, no other spacecraft in history has lingered so close to the ringed planet.

After 20 years, a NASA spacecraft's mission to Saturn is over. But on Friday, September 15, Cassini sent its final signal from 1.4 billion km away. This means that, although the spacecraft will begin to tumble and go out of communication at 3:31 a.m. PDT (1031 GMT) at Saturn, the signal from that event will not be received at Earth until 83 minutes later.

The spacecraft's final radio communications will be sent to the CSIRO's Deep Space centre, located outside Canberra.

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

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Now, it's used up all its fuel, according to a NASA statement, and in order to ensure researchers can study the area without interruption in future, Cassini must undertake a final suicide run, leaving the path clear for future craft. NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute The Cassini space probe took this image of geysers on the Saturn moon Enceladus shooting 50 miles into space.

The facility is one of only three in the world capable of communicating with Cassini, and on Friday night, Saturn will be visible in the Australian sky.

As Cassini hurtles on towards its death, the program head at NASA - Curt Niebur - is philosophical about the probe's final fate.

The images collected through the Cassini mission are split into the in five parts.

Scientists wanted to prevent Cassini from crashing into the moons Enceladus or Titan - and contaminating those pristine worlds.

Scientists have been busy getting final data from Cassini and NASA has released some of the final images taken by the orbiter. Cassini remained in orbit around Saturn, the only spacecraft to ever circle the planet.

"While it's always sad when a mission comes to an end, Cassini's finale plunge is a truly spectacular end for one of the most scientifically rich voyages yet undertaken in our solar system", NASA's statement said. But it was impossible to resist the lure of the data they could get from Cassini's Grand Finale - the series of dives between Saturn and its rings.

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