The 22ft robot craft will break into fragments and burn up as it ploughs into the ringed planet's cloud tops, ending a 20-year mission that cost £2.9 billion.
On Friday September 15, just hours before the Cassini spacecraft sends itself plunging into Saturn's atmosphere, the spacecraft will live-stream a torrent of final data back to Earth in one last hurrah before going out in a literal blaze of glory.
NASA scientists at mission control expect to lose contact with Cassini at 7:55 a.m. EDT. During the spring equinox, Cassini could capture the way the sunlight hit Saturn's rings edge-on, allowing researchers to measure the summits of mountains they saw rising from the rings. This did a fast fly-by in November 1980, so only gave us a glimpse of Saturn, its rings, and its moons. "It will radiate across the solar system for almost an hour and a half after Cassini itself has gone". Cassini-Huygens was actually two things initially: an orbiter (Cassini) and a lander (Huygens).
In the final three hours or so before impact on Friday all data acquired by the spacecraft will be relayed straight to Earth, bypassing the onboard solid state memory.
As Cassini approaches Saturn, it will continue taking photos of the planet, its rings and moons, with its final images expected to be received Thursday night. "It'll be a mixture of sadness and pride and joy at having worked on the mission and saying goodbye to my Cassini family". Get Robert's monthly space updates delivered stra. While Voyager was 1970s technology, Cassini is '90s technology.
"According to NASA", No spacecraft has ever ventured so close to the planet before". Scientists wanted one last look to see if Peggy had broken free of its ring. But after Cassini revealed so many ocean worlds close at hand, that assumption has to be revised. Cassini also found that the moon Hyperion has a statically charged surface.
The Canberra station has been with Cassini through every step of its journey of discovery, from when it first opened its "eyes" to the Universe after launching in 1997 to receiving the signal confirming that Cassini had arrived safely in orbit at Saturn in 2004. NASA did not want to risk Cassini crashing into any of Saturn's moons and potentially contaminating them with microbes from Earth.
During the dive there is also a concern that Cassini might impact with ring material - space stuff the size of a grain-of-sand that could damage an instrument or the entire spacecraft. And seven years later, the summer solstice provided astonishing views of Saturn's north pole, which changes from blue to yellow over the course of the planet's year, ostensibly due to reactions between organic compounds in the atmosphere. Instead, Cassini will be configured to run only those instruments that can sense the planet's near-space environment, such as its magnetic field, or that can sample the chemical composition of its gases.
They have set many records and one of them is their planetary encounters that include the discovery of the first active volcanoes beyond Earth - on Jupiter's moon Io - and the most Earth-like atmosphere in the solar system - on Saturn's moon Titan.
Live-streaming like the McGregor v Mayweather fight?
One minute later its high-gain antenna will point away from Earth, and the signal from the spacecraft will be gone for good.
"Its true legacy is how NASA responds to the observations it made and then make decisions on how to utilize those in another series of missions", stated Green.