LIVE: Cassini spacecraft ends its mission at Saturn
PASADENA, Calif. — NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is making a final plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere to end its mission some 13 years after reaching the ringed world. Flight controllers at NASA are receiving the probe’s final data before it burns up in the planet’s atmosphere.
Because the spacecraft is nearly out of fuel, NASA decided to send the spacecraft toward Saturn’s atmosphere on its 294th and final orbit to burn up. The main reason for ending the mission this way was to protect the potentially life-harboring moons of Titan and Enceladus. Once out of fuel, the probe would no longer be controllable and had the potential to crash into and contaminate the moons.
Cassini’s Grand Finale started on April 22, 2017, with a flyby of Titan that placed the spacecraft on a trajectory to fly inside the gap between Saturn’s rings and the planet itself multiple times over the course of several months. Then, earlier this week, one last distant flyby of Titan nudged the spacecraft’s orbit slightly enough to push it toward the gas giant’s upper atmosphere to end the mission.
With an 83-minute time delay due to the time it takes for the signals to reach Earth, Cassini’s final signals were sent at around 6:31 a.m. EDT (10:31 GMT). The Deep Space Network is expected to receive these signals at about 7:55 a.m. EDT (11:55 GMT).
NASA TV will air a post-mission news briefing at 9:30 a.m. EDT (01:30 GMT).
Derek Richardson has a degree in mass media, with an emphasis in contemporary journalism, from Washburn University in Topeka, Kansas. While at Washburn, he was the managing editor of the student run newspaper, the Washburn Review. He also has a website about human spaceflight called Orbital Velocity.