Fireball ending set for Saturn explorer Cassini after 20-year voyage

Rodiano Bonacci
Settembre 13, 2017

Cassini conducted its last flyby of Titan this Monday, the final one before its death plunge this Friday.

According to NASA, this final flyby of Titan was also Cassini's closest one as the spacecraft lowered to just 73,974 miles above the moon's surface. The spacecraft is scheduled to make contact with Earth on September 12th at about 6:19pm PDT (9:19pm EDT).

Cassini made its final, distant flyby of Saturn's moon Titan on September 11, which set the spacecraft on its final dive toward the planet.

This distant encounter is referred to informally as "the goodbye kiss" by mission engineers, because it provides a gravitational nudge that sends the spacecraft toward its dramatic ending in Saturn's upper atmosphere.

Saturn carried out exactly 127 precisely targeted encounters with Titan, either close or more distant ones, and some hundreds of other passes over it as well.

Thomas Zurbuchen, associate administrator for NASA's science mission directorate, said: "Cassini has transformed our thinking in so many ways. This final encounter is something of a bittersweet goodbye, but as it has done throughout the mission, Titan's gravity is once again sending Cassini where we need it to go", states Earl Maize. Cassini will intentionally end its 13 years long mission of exploring the Saturn system with a death plunge into the gas giant to ensure that its moons will remain "pristine for future explorations". No spacecraft has ever ventured so close to the planet before.

Cassini has been in space for 20 years and has been closely studying Saturn, its rings and nearby moons, but now that it is running out of fuel, it is preparing for its final mission - a controlled crash into Saturn's dense atmosphere. During its time there, Cassini has made numerous dramatic discoveries, including a global ocean with indications of hydrothermal activity within the icy moon Enceladus, and liquid methane seas on another moon, Titan.

He is the NASA Cassini Project Manager at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, California. JPL designed, developed and assembled the Cassini orbiter.

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