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The Grand Finale: NASA's Cassini Spacecraft Will Dive Into Saturn To Reveal It's Secrets

Cassini mission of NASA which was launched 20 years before is about to make a final orbit after which it will crash into Saturn and might get a peak what’s inside his year. Just like that robot which fell into a black hole in the Interstellar Movie. 

Cassini project manager Earl Maize explained this at a press conference that the long-lived spacecraft left the Earth in 1997 and first entered Saturn orbit in 2004, made a series of 22 close flybys, diving within 2,000 km of the giant planet’s cloud tops.

Before destroying, it would be able to sample the outer fringes of the planet’s atmosphere. On April 22 the spacecraft will make a flyby of Titan and then it will turn towards the Saturn with the help of Moon’s gravity. Maize at a press conference on April 4 in Pasadena, California said: “We would never take a flagship mission on that kind of course at any other time in the mission except when it’s about to end.”

There it will dive through the gap between the innermost rings of Saturn and the giant planet’s atmosphere. The spacecraft will be traveling 122,000 km/h, it would be fast enough that hitting anything more significant than a speck of dust could damage it completely.

Cassini’s mission is about to end one way or another, because the spacecraft is on the verge of running out of maneouvring fuel.

Project leaders predicted this years ago, but they said they did not want to leave the spacecraft drifting without maneouvring power.

Linda Spilker, the mission’s project scientist, said: “I would not be surprised if some of the discoveries will be the best we’ve obtained.”

As the condition of Saturn atmosphere are not suitable for the life hence it would be something more than only dumping the spacecraft safely into Saturn’s atmosphere, because there would be something new to explore and some exciting science might be there.

Massive rings survive longer than less-massive ones, and thus might also be older. One goal is to measure the mass of the rings more accurately than has previously been possible.

It would also be possible, Spilker said: “To determine what the rings are made of by studying the impacts of harmless, smoke-sized dust particles with Cassini’s cosmic dust analyser. We know they are 99% water ice, but we’re not sure about the other 1%. What is it? Iron, silicates, organics, a mix of all three, or something else we’ve not thought of?”

Some close-up views of Saturn’s poles called as “six-sided jet stream, two Earth diameters across” are also expected to come.

Some of the closer passes will help the scientists to closely observe the upper atmosphere and gravity of Saturn.

Spilker said: “The Grand Finale is like a brand new mission.”

Even on the final dive into the atmosphere, the spacecraft will continue to return data as it fights to keep its antenna pointing in the right direction.

Eventually, Maize said, it will lose contact, break up and vaporize.

The risk is also there that Cassini might hit something big to damage it, there are 98.8% chances to successful completing of all the 22 passes.

He said: “Our most dire models put us at 97%.”

Maize said: “If we get surprised, we have a bunch of contingency plans,” he added. Even if the spacecraft is knocked entirely out of commission, it is not at risk of hitting a moon, because from the moment it lines up for its upcoming Titan flyby, its orbit is determined by the laws of physics. “Cassini will still end up as planned, but we’ll get less science.”

Spilker said of the mission: “I’ve worked on it for almost three decades, my oldest daughter started kindergarten when I started working on Cassini. Now she’s married and has a daughter of her own. It’s really going to be hard to say goodbye to this plucky, capable spacecraft that has returned all of this great science.”

Cassini become the base to start the new missions as well, added Jim Green, director of NASA’s Planetary Science Division.

“We’re taking a page out of Cassini’s book,” Green said.

He said, the upcoming Europa Clipper mission (scheduled for launch in the 2020s) would use an approach similar to that which Cassini used to study Titan, rather than orbiting Europa.

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