NASA Explores Potential Saturn Missions to Succeed Cassini

Friday, 15 Sep, 2017

This Friday evening (15 September) at about 9:54pm AEST, CSIRO's team at the Canberra Deep Space Communication Complex will capture the final signals from NASA's Cassini spacecraft as it plunges into Saturn's atmosphere at over 111,000 kph. The finale is significant because Cassini was the only spacecraft out of four to enter Saturn's orbit. When is Cassini expected to make it final transmission to earth?

The Royal Mail (UK) issued in 2012 a postage stamp that featured a Cassini image of Saturn and its rings.

The gas was a sign of hydrothermal activity favorable to life, scientists said in April when they unveiled the finding. There are some huge gaps in the rings where the atmosphere is silent and less dusty.

"We'll be sending data in near real time as we rush headlong into the atmosphere - it's truly a first-of-its-kind event at Saturn".

"Final approach: the spacecraft is on course to dive into Saturn's atmosphere September 15", Cassini's team said in its twitter on Wednesday. Eastern Time for the spacecraft, but given the time it takes for the signal to reach Earth, we will receive those last bits of data just before 8 a.m. - long after Cassini is "gone".

He is the NASA Cassini Project Manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.

The fourth space probe to visit the solar system's second-largest planet (preceded by Voyager 1, Voyager 2 and Pioneer 11), Cassini is the first to orbit the gaseous giant.

Scientists were especially interested in Saturn's giant moon Titan, which has a nitrogen and methane atmosphere and in some ways resembles an early version of Earth.

Cassini was sent to Saturn to study its rings, the makeup of its surface and its hemisphere and to study its moons.

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The deliberate destruction of Cassini is by NASA is to ensure the craft's earthly elements do not accidentally contaminate Saturn's moons for future exploration. Going through the remaining data will take months and years of study, and the future missions Cassini will nearly inevitably inspire-to Titan, to Enceladus, or to other, undiscovered ocean worlds-will keep the orbiter's work relevant for decades to come.

While the mission itself is ending, the data and observations provided by Cassini will provide new details about the planet, its unique rings and moons for decades to come.

The moment will mark the end of an eight billion kilometer journey that began at Cape Canaveral in Florida in 1997 and took Cassini around Venus and Jupiter en route to its destination.

Friday's final dive will see the probe travel closer to the surface of Saturn than ever before.

Inspired to learn more after flybys of Saturn by NASA's Voyager missions, the Cassini mission was created to be an global effort that united NASA, the European Space Agency (ESA) and the Italian Space Agency.

Even among NASA missions, Cassini really is an overachiever.

In the end, Cassini will have witnessed half of a Saturn year.

One of Cassini's last looks at Saturn and its main rings from a distance. Of Cassini's 162 targeted flybys of Saturn's 53 named and nine unnamed moons, 127 were of Titan. As seasons on Saturn last about seven Earth years each, Cassini was just able to witness summer in the northern hemisphere before the mission ends.

NASA recreated a Cassini image of a backlit Saturn using a collage of about 1,600 photos of people waving at the ringed planet as part of social media campaign in 2013.