After two decades in space, NASA’s Cassini spacecraft has completed it’s final orbit around Saturn. Just one month shy of its 20th launch anniversary!
Today 15.09.2017 Cassini plunged into Saturn fighting to keep its antenna pointed at Earth as it transmitted its farewell. In the skies of Saturn, the journey ended, as Cassini became part of the planet itself.
Having disbursed almost every bit of the rocket propellant it carried to Saturn, operators have deliberately plunged Cassini into the planet to ensure Saturn’s moons will remain pristine for future exploration – in particular, the ice-covered, ocean-bearing moon Enceladus, but also Titan, with its extremely intriguing pre-biotic chemistry.
Launched on Oct. 15, 1997, the mission entered orbit around Saturn on June 30, 2004 (PDT), carrying the European Huygens probe.
After its four-year prime mission, Cassini’s tour was extended twice. Its key discoveries included the global ocean with indications of hydrothermal activity within Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on Titan
The European Huygens Probe
The Huygens probe successfully landed on Saturn’s largest moon Titan on January 14th, 2005. The descent lasted two hours and 27 minutes. The probe survived another 72 minutes on the surface of Titan. This was the first and, so far, the only landing in the outer solar system. Huygens holds the record as the most distant landing from Earth.
Beginning in 2010, Cassini began a seven-year mission extension in which it completed many moon flybys while observing seasonal changes on Saturn and Titan. The plan for this phase of the mission was to expend all of the spacecraft’s propellant while exploring Saturn, ending with a plunge into the planet’s atmosphere.
In April 2017, Cassini was placed on an impact course that unfolded over five months of daring dives – a series of 22 orbits that each pass between the planet and its rings. Called the Grand Finale, this final phase of the mission has brought unparalleled observations of the planet and its rings from closer than ever before!
Goodbye Cassini #GrandFinale
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