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After orbiting Saturn for 13 years, Cassini set for final dive on September 15 in ‘grand finale’

NASA's robotic spacecraft Cassini that has been orbiting Saturn for 13 years will make its final dive towards the planet on September 15

Written by: India TV News Desk, New York [Published on:11 Sep 2017, 3:00 PM IST]
Cassini
Artist's concept of Cassini diving between Saturn and its innermost ringPhoto:NASA

Cassini, NASA's robotic spacecraft that has been orbiting Saturn for 13 years, is set for a final dive towards the planet and burn up in its atmosphere in a "grand finale" after it flies past Titan, Saturn's largest moon, on September 15.

On its final approach to Saturn, the spacecraft will send back its final images and other data collected along the way. The spacecraft will be sending science data for as long as its small thrusters can keep the spacecraft's antenna pointed at Earth, NASA sais in a statement. Its cameras will send back pictures of moons Titan and Enceladus, the hexagon-shaped jet stream around the planet's north pole and features in the rings.

Soon after, Cassini will burn up and disintegrate like a meteor, NASA said in a statement.

Cassini was a collaboration between Nasa, ESA and the Italian space agency, Agenzia Spaziale Italiana, and was launched for the first time on October 15, 1997. 

The spacecraft entered orbit around Saturn on June 30, 2004, carrying the European Huygens probe. After its four-year prime mission, Cassini's tour was extended twice. 

Every week, Cassini has been diving through the approximately 2,000-kilometer-wide gap between Saturn and its rings. No other spacecraft has ever explored this unique region, NASA said. 

Its key discoveries have included the global ocean with indications of hydrothermal activity within Enceladus -- a potential target for scientists that can harbour life -- and liquid methane seas on Titan.

As Cassini plunges past Saturn, in its final run, the spacecraft will collect some incredibly rich and valuable information that was too risky to obtain earlier in the mission.

The spacecraft will make detailed maps of Saturn's gravity and magnetic fields, revealing how the planet is arranged internally, and possibly helping to solve the irksome mystery of just how fast Saturn is rotating.

The final dives will vastly improve our knowledge of how much material is in the rings, bringing us closer to understanding their origins.

Cassini's particle detectors will sample icy ring particles being funneled into the atmosphere by Saturn's magnetic field.

Its cameras will take amazing, ultra-close images of Saturn's rings and clouds.

In 2017, Cassini completed 13 years in orbit around Saturn, following a seven-year journey from Earth. 

The spacecraft is running low on the rocket fuel used for adjusting its course. If left unchecked, this situation would eventually prevent mission operators from controlling the course of the spacecraft, NASA said.

NASA chose to safely dispose of the spacecraft in the atmosphere of Saturn, in order to avoid the unlikely possibility of Cassini someday colliding with one of Saturn's moons, the statement said.