NASA Prepares For Cassini's Final Mission, Swan Song Starts April 22 [Video]By Mark Spencer, UniversityHerald Reporter
The Cassini spacecraft has been in orbit around Saturn since 2004 will now enter the final phase of its remarkable mission. Cassini was launched in 1997. After 20 years into space and 13 years in orbit around the ringed planet, officials at NASA has slated April 22 for the intrepid spacecraft to begin its five-month performance towards its 'Grand Finale' on Sept. 15, 2017.
After being in service for 20 years, Cassini is running low on fuel and running on fumes at this point. NASA decided to end the mission with a purposeful plunge into the planet this year. The plunge is necessary to protect and preserve Saturn's moons for future exploration and not contaminate them with a spacecraft carrying possible microbes from Earth, more so, Enceladus or Titan, which NASA says are potentially habitable.
The Cassini team at NASA's mission control is currently doing final systems checks to ensure Cassini's swan song goes on as planned. Mission control is set to upload command sequences to Cassini on April 11.
Cassini's Final Phase
Cassini's final performance is in a way like a brand new mission. NASA will send Cassini into a series of 22 dives through the yet unexplored space between Saturn and its rings. The intrepid spacecraft is expected to provide surprising revelations from its close passes over the planet.
The robotic probe will enter into its final orbits on April 22, with a final close flyby of Saturn's giant moon, Titan. Cassini will then use the gravity slingshot from Titan that will push the probe into Saturn.
A final kiss goodbye
With a final kiss and a push from Titan, scientists and enthusiasts will certainly have eyes on Cassini as it traverses towards its destination, all the time providing insights into the planet's rings and its internal structure. It will also obtain a sampling of Saturn's atmosphere and particles of its rings.
By mid-September, the spacecraft's trajectory will be bent so that it dives into the planet. When Cassini makes its final plunge into the ringed gas giant on September 15, it is expected to send data from several of its onboard instruments, notably on the composition of its atmosphere, until the signal is lost, for good, according to Phys.org.
The Cassini mission is a joint project of NASA, ESA, and the ISA. The Jet Propulsion Laboratory, a division of the California Institute of Technology, handles mission managers for NASA's Science Mission Directorate.