Cassini will take five victory laps before plunging into Saturn

Geronimo Vena
Agosto 10, 2017

Cassini has entered its final stages where its last mission will be to make five orbits around Saturn, diving in close to the planet's upper atmosphere.

During these orbits, Cassini will be flying between 1,630 and 1,710 km above Saturn's cloud tops, according to Nasa. "Thanks to our past experience, the team is confident that we understand how the spacecraft will behave at the atmospheric densities our models predict".

The Cassini probe of Saturn will begin the first of five final dives into the planet's dense upper atmosphere on Monday in preparation for a suicide plunge after almost 2 decades in space, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) said in a press release on Wednesday. Conversely, if the pop-up is not needed and if the air is not dense enough, they will conduct a pop-down manoeuvre, dropping the craft further into Saturn's atmosphere by 200km.

Cassini will capture high resolution observations of Saturn's auroras, temperature and the vortexes at the planet's poles during the final orbits. Its radar will peer deep into the atmosphere to reveal small-scale features as fine as 25 kilometres wide - almost 100 times smaller than the spacecraft could observe prior to its final mission phase, the Grand Finale.

"It's always been a goal in planetary exploration to send a dedicated probe into the atmosphere of Saturn and we're laying the groundwork for future exploration with this first foray", Spilker said in a statement.

During its final pass on September 11th, the probe will go near enough Titan for the moon's gravity to slow down its orbit, bending its path and marking the beginning of its final days.

Cassini launched in 1997 and arrived at Saturn seven years later. Despite everything Cassini has done to enrich our knowledge of the second largest planet in our solar system, it's running low on the rocket fuel used to adjust its course.

The ship's scientific instruments will be operating, but once it gets close to the planet, the atmospheric density will be so intense that Cassini's rockets won't be able to point the antenna toward Earth, cutting off communication.

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