Tech & Science NASA's Cassini spacecraft nears a fiery, brutal end, when it will plunge into Saturn

03:52  04 september  2017
03:52  04 september  2017 Source:   Los Angeles Times

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LOS ANGELES — After 13 years of observing Saturn , its rings and its myriad moons, NASA ’ s Cassini spacecraft is less than two week away from a fiery , brutal end . Early in the morning on Sept.

NASA ’ s Cassini spacecraft nears a fiery , brutal end , when it will plunge into Saturn Los Angeles Times 23:21 29-Aug-17. NASA ’ s Cassini dove past Saturn ’s rings and sent back this gorgeous video BGR 23:05 29-Aug-17.

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After 13 years of observing Saturn, its rings and its myriad moons, NASA's Cassini spacecraft is less than three weeks away from a fiery, brutal end.

Early in the morning on Sept. 15 the aging spacecraft will hurl itself into Saturn's atmosphere at speeds of more than 75,000 mph.

It's a deliberate death plunge from which it has no hope of returning.

Within three minutes of diving into Saturn's tenuous upper layers, the two-story-tall spacecraft will be torn apart.

The Spacecraft Cassini Captured the First Detailed View of Saturn’s North Pole

  The Spacecraft Cassini Captured the First Detailed View of Saturn’s North Pole The Cassini spacecraft, fast approaching its final days after more than a decade of exploring Saturn, captured a view of the planet’s north pole in April as it neared the gap between Saturn and its rings. The spacecraft’s photo, released on Monday, shows the sun hitting Saturn, offering the most detailed look yet at the planet’s north pole, according to NASA.Cassini captured the photo on the first day of its “Grand Finale,” or, last grazing orbit of Saturn. The spacecraft, which has explored the ringed gas giant since 2004, has reached the end of its useful life. It will commit suicide on Sept.

NASA ' s Cassini spacecraft nears a fiery , brutal end , when it will plunge into Saturn . LOS ANGELES -- After 13 years of observing Saturn , its rings and its myriad moons, NASA ' s Cassini spacecraft is less than three weeks away from a fiery , brutal end .

NASA ' s Cassini spacecraft nears a fiery , brutal end , when it will plunge into Saturn . LOS ANGELES -- After 13 years of observing Saturn , its rings and its myriad moons, NASA ' s Cassini spacecraft is less than three weeks away from a fiery , brutal end .

Then it will melt.

This image made by the Cassini spacecraft and provided by NASA on March 12, 2006, shows two of Saturn's moons, the small Epimetheus and smog-enshrouded Titan, with Saturn's A and F rings stretching across the frame. Launched in 1997, Cassini reached Saturn in 2004 and has been exploring it from orbit ever since. Cassini's fuel tank is almost empty, so NASA has opted for a risky, but science-rich grand finale. © AP Photo/NASA/File This image made by the Cassini spacecraft and provided by NASA on March 12, 2006, shows two of Saturn's moons, the small Epimetheus and smog-enshrouded Titan, with Saturn's A and F rings stretching across the frame. Launched in 1997, Cassini reached Saturn in 2004 and has been exploring it from orbit ever since. Cassini's fuel tank is almost empty, so NASA has opted for a risky, but science-rich grand finale.

Then it will vaporize.

In the end, Cassini will become part of the very planet it has studied for more than a decade.

"I like to say it's going out in a blaze of glory," said Linda Spilker of the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in La Canada Flintridge, the project scientist for the mission. "It will be trailblazing until the very last second."

NASA is about to destroy a $3.26 billion spacecraft by flying it into Saturn -- here's a breakdown of what will happen

  NASA is about to destroy a $3.26 billion spacecraft by flying it into Saturn -- here's a breakdown of what will happen NASA is about to say a fond farewell to its Cassini spacecraft. After 13 years of exploring Saturn and its mysterious moons, Cassini is running out of fuel. NASA is using the remaining dregs to fly it straight into Saturn on September 15th, where the $US3.26 billion spacecraft will be obliterated. Here's a break down of what will happen as the final day approaches.September 9th --Cassini will pass through the gap between Saturn and its rings for the last time.It will be just 1,044 miles above the planet.

NASA ' s Cassini spacecraft nears a fiery , brutal end , when it will plunge into Saturn . LOS ANGELES -- After 13 years of observing Saturn , its rings and its myriad moons, NASA ' s Cassini spacecraft is less than three weeks away from a fiery , brutal end .

NASA ' s Cassini spacecraft nears a fiery , brutal end , when it will plunge into Saturn . LOS ANGELES -- After 13 years of observing Saturn , its rings and its myriad moons, NASA ' s Cassini spacecraft is less than three weeks away from a fiery , brutal end .

Earth-bound astronomers will keep a close eye on the planet at the moment of Cassini's death to see whether they can detect a small flare as the spacecraft burns up like a meteor in the Saturnian sky.

But they don't expect to see much.

"The mass of Cassini is so small compared to the mass of the planet," Spilker said. "And the plunge is happening on Saturn's day side."

She added that there is no fear that Cassini's death dive will contaminate the ringed giant. Molecules from the spacecraft will quickly spread out across the planet, which is big enough to hold more than 700 Earths.

Still, Cassini's suicide mission is not all gloom and doom. The spacecraft will venture deeper into Saturn's atmosphere than ever before, collecting brand new data and beaming it back to Earth up until the last seconds of its life.

"We are reconfiguring the spacecraft and turning Cassini into an atmospheric probe," said Earl Maize, the mission's program manager, who also works at JPL.

Cassini Captured Some Incredible Photos Of Saturn's Rings

  Cassini Captured Some Incredible Photos Of Saturn's Rings Last month Cassini took the most detailed photos of Saturn's rings that it has even captured.But before the craft performs its final act of science, it’s been completing several loops of the rings of Saturn. That science would have never been possible without the finale orchestrated the way it has been. So far it’s resulted in some stunning images of Saturn, some of which NASA released Thursday.

NASA ' s Cassini spacecraft nears a fiery , brutal end , when it will plunge into Saturn . LOS ANGELES -- After 13 years of observing Saturn , its rings and its myriad moons, NASA ' s Cassini spacecraft is less than three weeks away from a fiery , brutal end .

NASA ' s Cassini spacecraft nears a fiery , brutal end , when it will plunge into Saturn . LOS ANGELES -- After 13 years of observing Saturn , its rings and its myriad moons, NASA ' s Cassini spacecraft is less than three weeks away from a fiery , brutal end .

Cassini could make it as far as 120 miles into the Saturnian atmosphere before all its instruments cease to function, mission engineers said.

"I find great comfort that Cassini will continue teaching us until the very last second on Sept. 15," said Curt Niebur, Cassini program scientist based at NASA's headquarters in Washington.

The flagship mission launched in 1997 and entered the Saturnian system in 2004.

Over the last 13 years it has discovered plumes of water ice on the moon Enceladus, confirmed the presence of methane and ethane lakes and rivers on Titan, watched the seasons change on Saturn, discovered six new moons and revealed complexities in the planet's rings that had never been seen before.

"We've rewritten the textbooks on Saturn," Spilker said. "Literally, there are so many new books coming out."

Although the spacecraft's instruments continue to work flawlessly, its gas tank is nearing empty. Mission planners decided to crash Cassini into Saturn to avoid any risk of contaminating Enceladus or Titan, two of Saturn's moons that could harbor the ingredients necessary for life.

Beginning in April, Cassini began a series of orbits that took it speeding through the gap between the planet and its rings for the first time. This has allowed scientists to address new questions including the age of the rings and how quickly the planet's interior is spinning.

By Sept. 15, the spacecraft will have completed 22 of these orbits to collect new data even as its end looms.

"Who knows what new mysteries the next two weeks will bring?" Spilker said.

The NASA Team That Kills Spacecraft .
Planning the death of a billion-dollar project is a calculated and emotional endeavor.Jupiter saw a similar tail of fire streak through its atmosphere back in 2003, when the Galileo probe turned to face the planet, fired its thrusters, and sped into Jupiter at 108,000 miles per hour. More than a year earlier, a team of people at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory had decided they would kill the spacecraft by throwing it into into the giant planet. It’s a decision not to be taken lightly, especially when these missions cost billions of dollars and can take decades of planning.

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