The Cassini spacecraft, which has been exploring various unique features of Saturn for the past 13 years, is now due to end its mission as it gets ready for its final plunge into the ring planet – the grand finale of Cassini’s epic 20-year-long journey.
Launched on October 15, 1997, the epitome of space missions ever conducted by human beings – Cassini begun its journey towards the ringed planet of our solar system – Saturn. After a 7-year-long journey all the way from Earth, through the solar system, Cassini arrived at Saturn in 2004 and was inserted into Saturn’s orbit. It has performed thousands of explorations around Saturn and explored the unexplored spaces around the distant planet of rings, where no humanly object has been ever before. It has unveiled many mysteries of Saturn, its atmosphere, those amazing rings and Saturn’s moons – Titan and Enceladus.
After 13 years of continuous exploration, Cassini is finally running out of fuel and will soon loose contact with Earth. So NASA decided to give a final grand mission to Cassini and then end it with a fiery plunge into the atmosphere of Saturn; because if the spaceship is left in uncontrolled orbits of Saturn, it may end crashing into Saturn’s satellites which could host some form of life or may obstruct future missions. So it is best to end the mission which will again reveal unsolved mysteries of Saturn’s atmosphere as its grand finale.
On Monday, Cassini made the closest approach to Titan and completed a final distant flyby of the satellite – which is known as a ‘goodbye kiss’, which is basically a gravitational nudge given by Titan to the satellite. As a part of the final mission, Cassini carried dived between Saturn’s atmosphere and its rings 22 times. Each of these orbits takes about six and half Earth days and the final mission had begun on April 22, 2017. On September 15, 2017 – Cassini will complete its final 22nd orbit on an elliptical path and dive into Saturn’s atmosphere at tens of thousands of miles per hour through the 2400 km-wide space between rings and the planet – where no spacecraft has explored ever before.
During the fierce dive, Cassini will turn towards Earth and transmit everything it receives on its data recorders for 14.5 final hours of its mission. This data will take an 11-hour downline which will be received at NASA’s Deep Space Network (DSN) in California and will then be handed over to a station in Australia because of Earth’s rotational alignment with Saturn. From then, Cassini will transmit every bit of data as long as it can, before it gets destroyed in the methane atmosphere of Saturn. It will send precious data that has never been received ever before and Cassini will not get a second change to send out the unique data to Earth.
As it will get closer to Saturn, Cassini will start getting hotter and about 1500 km above Saturn’s clouds, the epic spaceship will slowly start to tumble and will lose contact with Earth forever. The multi-layered gold insulation will char first, then the carbon fibre epoxy structures and eventually the components mounted – leading to exposing the core spacecraft itself. Gas tanks will explode and temperature will rise up to that on the surface of Sun ending up in a blast and the debris will be completely consumed by Saturn’s atmosphere – making it a part of the planet forever. This is what the triumphant end of 20-year-old Cassini mission be like, which has overflowed human race with explorations and discoveries into the depths of the infinite universe.