After nearly 20 years in space, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft begins the final chapter of its remarkable exploration history the Grand Final.
Between April and September 2017, Cassini will begin a series of bold orbits, in many ways, as a new mission. After a last narrow part of Saturn’s moon Titan, Cassini jumps over the icy rings of the planet and begin a series of 22 weekly dive between the planet and the rings.
In the last orbit, Cassini plunged into the atmosphere of Saturn, sending a new and unique science in the end. After losing contact with Earth, the spacecraft burns like a meteor, being part of the planet itself.
When the Cassini sank after Saturn, the spacecraft will gather incredibly rich and valuable information that was too risky for the principles of the mission.
The spacecraft make detailed maps of the gravity and magnetic fields of Saturn, which reveals how the world is arranged internally, and perhaps help solve the irrational mystery of how fast Saturn rotates.
The final dives greatly improve our knowledge of the amount of material in the rings, which closer understanding of their origins. Cassini particle detectors are the particles of the frozen ring that is channeled to the atmosphere by the magnetic field of Saturn. Its cameras take amazing images and ultra-narrow rings and clouds of Saturn.
By 2017, Cassini has spent 13 years in orbit around Saturn after a seven-year journey from Earth. The spacecraft is low on rocket fuel used to adjust its path. If not controlled, this situation can prevent mission operators to control the spacecraft’s trajectory. To avoid the unlikely possibility of Cassini one day collide with one of these moons, NASA chose to safely remove the spacecraft in Saturn’s atmosphere. This will ensure that Cassini can contaminate any future study of habitability and potential life on these moons.