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Space & Astronomy

Cassini set for total destruction on Friday

By T.K. Randall
September 11, 2017 · Comment icon 34 comments

Cassini's days are numbered. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
NASA's long-lived Cassini spacecraft will begin its final descent in to Saturn's atmosphere this week.
Originally launched all the way back in 1997 and arriving in orbit around Saturn in 2004, Cassini, which initially came paired with ESA's Titan-bound Huygens lander, has been one of the biggest success stories in space exploration over the last two decades.

Brimming with an array of sophisticated instrumentation, Cassini has sent back huge amounts of information about Saturn and its moons as well as about its fascinating and enigmatic ring system.

Sadly though, as the probe approaches the end of its operational life, NASA is preparing to send it on one final, suicidal dive right in to the atmosphere of the planet it has been studying for over 13 years.

Today it will be making one last course correction that will see it skimming closer than ever before to Saturn's moon Titan before heading in to the gas giant itself on Friday morning.
"That final flyby of Titan will put Cassini on an impacting trajectory and there is absolutely no coming out of it," said Cassini programme manager Earl Maize.

"We're going to go so deep into the atmosphere the spacecraft doesn't have a chance of coming out."

Cassini will continue to take photographs and return data until the early hours of Friday morning when it will break up in the gas giant's atmosphere and all contact with it will be lost.

"The Cassini mission has taught us so very much, and to me personally I find great comfort from the fact that Cassini will continue teaching us right up to the very last seconds," said scientist Curt Niebur.

Source: BBC News | Comments (34)




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Recent comments on this story
Comment icon #25 Posted by Merc14 7 years ago
OK,. I guess I am just surprised that this is news to you as the decision was made back in April, it was all over the news, the reasoning behind it has been written about in countless articles  and it has been talked about here many times.  In other words, it is a surprise only to you.     It doesn't run off a battery, it runs off an RTG and while was still providing power, the propellant was nearly gone which means there was absolutely no way to maneuver the craft.  All options were discussed and the team thought that getting closeup data on Saturn and sampling the space between the pla... [More]
Comment icon #26 Posted by qxcontinuum 7 years ago
Thanks for expanding. A few months back i was surprised reading that Cassini's mission is coming to an end and the plan was to crash it. At that time I though reasons would be equipment failure including battery (well RTG), however after reading that the battery's life was still suffice to maintain it's core operations functional excluding propellant, the most natural decision in my opinion was to move it to a fix orbit to maintain this important asset rather than crash it... however I found fascinating that after recent discoveries or confirmation that under Enceladus there's a liquid ocean... [More]
Comment icon #27 Posted by Merc14 7 years ago
Also, Cassini was 20 years old and on her third extension so while things were running they were wearing out and it costs money to monitor missions so this would be very little return for the dollar.  Flying between the rings, however, provided a wealth of new data and no one knew what the craft would run into, it was an unknown.    Much better investment IMHO.
Comment icon #28 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 7 years ago
Incinerating a spacecraft in this way is the standard M,O, for NASA, As pointed out by toast, Derek Willis and myself, this was planned long ago, and indeed was how the mission of Galileo was ended at Jupiter back in 2003. The destruction of a spacecraft in this way is not just to protect any potential life that may exist on the moons, it is to prevent Earth life getting there. If a future mission to, for example, Enceladus discovers microbial life, scientists will need to be 100% certain that it was not accidentally introduced by a previous mission.
Comment icon #29 Posted by qxcontinuum 7 years ago
understandable but not truly applicable in this case since Cassini hosted the Huygens probe who landed on Titan, hence already producing the potential contamination  
Comment icon #30 Posted by Waspie_Dwarf 7 years ago
Huygens was designed to be landed on Titan and hence underwent a more vigorous process of decontamination than Cassini, which was not designed to impact on the moons. Unlike Enceladus it is also unlikely that Titan could host life or that contamination from Earth could survive there. It is also not logical to think that simply because one probe may have been a source of contamination that 13 years later they would simply repeat the same mistake. Human beings  (well some anyway) are capable of learning from their past errors.
Comment icon #31 Posted by Merc14 7 years ago
You are working some angle here and simply beating around the bush, why don't you knock it off and simply post what you really think this is about?
Comment icon #32 Posted by qxcontinuum 7 years ago
I can assure you that there's no conspiracies in mind , nor saturnian, plutonian, venusoian , illuminati etc , related ... rofl 
Comment icon #33 Posted by Merc14 7 years ago
What are you rofl'ing about,  you have had some truly bizarre ideas here in the past and I can assure you that everyone else was waiting for the other shoe to drop.   I still have no idea why you are acting as if this mission end was some strange occurrence and am still convinced you have some bizarre theory you are waiting to post but so be it.  
Comment icon #34 Posted by qxcontinuum 7 years ago
you are off topic ... again


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