After almost 20 years in space, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft, carrying the LASP-built UltraViolet Imaging Spectrograph (UVIS), will conclude the final chapter of its remarkable story of exploration as it plunges into Saturn’s atmosphere Friday morning, September 15.
Join some of the team members at LASP, as we mark this significant milestone and celebrate one of NASA’s most successful missions ever by tuning into NASA TV coverage, hearing a couple brief live presentations, and enjoying breakfast snacks and coffee.
Since April 2017, Cassini has completed a daring series of orbits that was, in many ways, like a whole new mission. Following a final close flyby of Saturn’s moon Titan on April 22, Cassini began a series of 22 weekly dives between the planet and the rings. No other mission has ever explored this unique region.
On the final orbit, Cassini will plunge into Saturn’s atmosphere, sending back new and unique science to the very end. After losing contact with Earth, the spacecraft will burn up like a meteor, becoming part of the planet itself.
Cassini’s final images will have been sent to Earth several hours before its final plunge, but even as the spacecraft makes its fateful dive into the planet’s atmosphere, it will be sending home new data in real time. Key measurements will come from its mass spectrometer, which will sample Saturn’s atmosphere, telling us about its composition until contact is lost.
While it’s always sad when a mission comes to an end, Cassini’s finale plunge is a truly spectacular end for one of the most scientifically rich voyages yet undertaken in our solar system. From its launch in 1997 to the unique Grand Finale science of 2017, the Cassini-Huygens mission has racked up a remarkable list of achievements.
By 2017, Cassini will have spent 13 years in orbit around Saturn, following a seven-year journey from Earth. The spacecraft is running low on the rocket fuel used for adjusting its course. If left unchecked, this situation would eventually prevent mission operators from controlling the course of the spacecraft.
In order to avoid the unlikely possibility of Cassini someday colliding with one of Saturn’s moons, NASA has chosen to safely dispose of the spacecraft in the atmosphere of Saturn. This will ensure that Cassini cannot contaminate any future studies of habitability and potential life on those moons.
For more information about LASP’s role in Cassini, please see: http://bit.ly/LASPCassini.
Download event flyer: (7 MB PDF)