NASA’s Cassini spacecraft is inching closer to embrace death. On September 15, the USD 3.26 billion spacecraft will finally be destroyed as it will crash into Saturn’s atmosphere making an end to its 13 years of journey in the orbit around the ringed-planet. Cassini has made a number of revelations about Saturn and its moon.
Why is NASA killing its baby?
NASA has decided to safely dispose off Cassini in Saturn’s atmosphere fearing it could someday collide with one of the moons Enceladus and Titan and may possibly contaminate future studies of habitability and potential life on these celestial bodies. Both Enceladus and Titan were reported to be home to habitable or atleast "prebiotic” – environments.
What all NASA Cassini probe will do during its last seven days of journey:
September 9, Saturday: Cassini spacecraft will make last 22 flybys between Saturn and its rings when it will be just above 1680 kilometres the cloud tops of the planet.
Sept 11, Monday: Cassini will pass by the largest moon of Saturn, Titan, for the last time. The gravitational influence of Titan will slightly slow down the spacecraft as it speeds fast even as the probe will be 119,049 kilometres away. A few days later, Cassini will dive in too deep to survive the friction and heating instead of passing through the outermost fringes of Saturn’s atmosphere.
Sept 14, Thursday: Cassini, which has been sending back pictures, will take last images of moons Titan and Enceladus. It will also capture the hexagon-shaped jet stream around the planet's north pole, and features in the rings.
5:45 pm EDT: Cassini’s antenna will turn towards the Earth. The spacecraft will then beam back final images and data.
Sept 15, Friday; 4:37 am EDT: The ‘final plunge’ will start and during this phase, Cassini will begin sending real time data. It will roll itself for optimal sampling of the atmosphere.
7:53 a.m. EDT: The spacecraft will step into the atmosphere of Saturn. After making an entry, the thrusters would be firing at 10% capability to maintain directional stability. Till this time, it will be sending the data.
7:54 am EDT: Cassini’s thrusters will be at their full capacity and the communication link to Earth will break and at this moment the spacecraft will say goodbye to Earth.
Launched in 1997, Cassini took seven years to reach Saturn. "The end of Cassini's mission will be a poignant moment, but a fitting and very necessary completion of an astonishing journey," said Earl Maize, Cassini project manager at NASA's Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California.
"The Grand Finale represents the culmination of a seven-year plan to use the spacecraft’s remaining resources in the most scientifically productive way possible. By safely disposing of the spacecraft in Saturn's atmosphere, we avoid any possibility Cassini could impact one of Saturn's moons somewhere down the road, keeping them pristine for future exploration."