Cassini’s days are numbered. Image Credit: NASA/JPL-Caltech
Originally launched all the way back in 1997 and arriving in orbit around Saturn in 2004, Cassini, which initially came paired with ESA’s Titan-bound Huygens lander, has been one of the biggest success stories in space exploration over the last two decades.
Brimming with an array of sophisticated instrumentation, Cassini has sent back huge amounts of information about Saturn and its moons as well as about its fascinating and enigmatic ring system.
Sadly though, as the probe approaches the end of its operational life, NASA is preparing to send it on one final, suicidal dive right in to the atmosphere of the planet it has been studying for over 13 years.
Today it will be making one last course correction that will see it skimming closer than ever before to Saturn’s moon Titan before heading in to the gas giant itself on Friday morning.
“That final flyby of Titan will put Cassini on an impacting trajectory and there is absolutely no coming out of it,” said Cassini programme manager Earl Maize.
“We’re going to go so deep into the atmosphere the spacecraft doesn’t have a chance of coming out.”
Cassini will continue to take photographs and return data until the early hours of Friday morning when it will break up in the gas giant’s atmosphere and all contact with it will be lost.
“The Cassini mission has taught us so very much, and to me personally I find great comfort from the fact that Cassini will continue teaching us right up to the very last seconds,” said scientist Curt Niebur.