Published: Sun, April 23, 2017
Research | By Francis Brooks

In 'grand finale,' Cassini spacecraft sets off on collision course with Saturn

In 'grand finale,' Cassini spacecraft sets off on collision course with Saturn

This flyby is Cassini's 127th targeted encounter with Titan.

Why end the mission?

"That last kiss goodbye", says project manager Earl Maize about Cassini's last meeting with Titan. "We can not risk inadvertent contact with that pristine body". Cassini's Magnetometer (MAG) instrument will take advantage of the close flyby to study the northern part of Titan's magnetotail.

While the spacecraft speeds by at 13,000 miles per hour (21,000 kph), its RADAR instrument will embark on its longest-duration observation of Titan's surface, searching for changes in its methane lakes and seas. The evidence of life on the two moons warrants another mission-this time with enhanced capability to pick up things like fatty and amino acids, or even bring back samples of the methane lakes on the two moons.

Cassini's final run was set into motion early on Saturday by its 127th and final pass by Titan, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration said.

Another option would be to guide the probe further out into space, but Nasa believes sending it to its destruction will yield far more scientific discoveries. The concern is whether computer models of Saturn's rings are accurate. Scientists hope to gain additional insights to help them determine whether the feature is waves, bubbles, floating debris, or something else entirely. We're going to go shooting between Saturn and its rings, threading the needle, which means we'll be able to taste the ring particles, be able to understand more about what those are made of.

"At times, the spacecraft will skirt the very inner edge of the rings; at other times, it will skim the outer edges of the atmosphere. Maybe a moon or a comet got too close, and got torn apart by Saturn's gravity".

The ring dives are risky. It won't be easy to say goodbye, but thanks to the probe, Saturn's family album is bursting with remarkable images that will forever remind us the tenacity of this awesome machine and the vision and work of those who kept it operating for so many years.

That's roughly the width of the continental United States.

What all will happen in the final journey of Cassini spacecraft? For protection, it will turn its large, high-gain antenna dish toward its direction of motion. She told us what Cassini will be doing, and why.

NASA's Cassini spacecraft will make a flyby of the moon Titan, which is one of the final orbits in its Grand Finale, on April 21, 2017.

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The spacecraft captured the view on April 12, 2017, at 10:41 p.m. PDT (1:41 a.m. EDT on April 13).

In five months, pictures like this will be no more.

NASA's Cassini mission is now on its last leg and is inching toward its graceful finish in 2017.

Eventually, Cassini will be torn apart.

The satellite is controlled from the Earth with radio signals which take 68 to 84 minutes to reach the spacecraft.

It will be an emotional end-especially for scientists that have worked on the mission.

We don't blame you if you can't see Earth.

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Cassini completed its initial four-year mission in June 2008, and the first extension - called the Cassini Equinox Mission - in September 2010. Don't miss this special issue!

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