NASA's Cassini spacecraft begins final approach to Saturn: See pics

Posted September 15, 2017

Cassini's final transmissions are expected to include unprecedented data from the atmosphere's upper fringe about 1,190 miles (1,915 km) above Saturn's cloud tops.

Cassini is set for its final dive towards the planet and burn up in its atmosphere on Friday. At last, Cassini successfully took the close-up looks related to the Saturn for 22 times.

NASA confirmed the spacecraft's demise at 7:55 a.m. ET, as predicted.

The spacecraft tumbled out of control while plummeting at more than 76,000 miles per hour (122,000 kph). The spacecraft studied Saturn's atmosphere and took measurements to determine the size of the planet's rocky core. Earl Maize, the project manager of the mission, is quoted as calling this pass, "a kiss goodbye".

Though Cassini's life was extended twice with new missions, the spacecraft had a limited fuel supply.

On Oct. 15, 1997, the Cassini-Huygens unmanned robotic spacecraft set out on a seven-year journey to explore Saturn.

The final dive ended a mission that gave scientists a ringside seat to the sixth planet from the sun. The spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn for 13 years.

"Things never will be quite the same for those of us on the Cassini team now that the spacecraft is no longer flying", said Linda Spilker, Cassini project scientist at JPL. And NASA didn't want to risk contaminating the moons or any future studies of themwith Earth particles. (NASA/JPL-Caltech/Space Science Institute) This image of Saturn's rings was taken by NASA's Cassini spacecraft on September 13, 2017. All of the mission's magnetosphere and plasma science instruments, plus the spacecraft's radio science system, and its infrared and ultraviolet spectrometers will collect data during the final plunge. But "the propellant tanks will explode eventually as the temperatures get high enough", he says. The space probe of his namesake, on the other hand, before it goes out, will send a final echo which will radiate across the solar system for hours and the signals will travel through the cosmos for eternity. The second-largest planet in our solar system, after Jupiter, Saturn is a soccer ball if Earth is a nickel.

The Cassini orbiter carried with itself the Huygens probe which was developed by the European Space Agency.

A gap in Saturn's rings known as the Cassini Division, January 2016. Saturn is the furthest planet which is visible to us from Earth with the naked eye. "Cassini's discovery of ocean worlds at Titan and Enceladus changed everything, shaking our views to the core about surprising places to search for potential life beyond Earth".

But 20 years ago, we launched Cassini to finish what the Voyagers started.

Today, in one of the most thrilling moments-and, for the mission's scientists and engineers, perhaps the saddest-the orbiter Cassini-Huygens plunged toward Saturn at almost 80,000 miles an hour to incinerate itself.

When Cassini arrived, it witnessed a giant storm circling the planet for nine months.

At the edge of Saturn's B ring, the equinox shadows revealed structures that towered as high as 2.5 kilometers. Serendipitous observations showed that icy jets erupt from Enceladus. The ship also found evidence of liquid ethane and methane in Titan's hydrocarbon lakes and seas, while also analyzing chemicals that form in the moon's atmosphere and rain down on Titan.

Spacecraft designers "built a flawless spacecraft, right to the last end", said Julie Webster, spacecraft operations manager on the mission, at the press conference.