SPACE | NASA's Cassini spacecraft to face fiery end

SPACE | NASA's Cassini spacecraft to face fiery end

Cassini spacecraft was launched back in 1997, and it reached the orbit of the foreign planet seven years later in 2004.

On Friday morning, the craft that has been exploring Saturn's system plunged into the planet's atmosphere and nearly immediately disintegrated. The spacecraft has been orbiting Saturn for 13 years.

"This is the final chapter of an incredible mission, but it's also a new beginning", said Thomas Zurbuchen, Associate Administrator for NASA's Science Mission Directorate at NASA Headquarters in Washington.

SPACE scientists at Aberystwyth University are following the progress of the Cassini spacecraft as it nears the end of its 20-year mission to Saturn.

The final photos taken by NASA's Cassini Saturn orbiter have begun coming down to Earth, and you can see them all.

"Earth received CassiniSaturn's final signal at 7:55 a.m. ET (1155 GMT)". The spacecraft will then reconfigure for a near-real-time date relay during the final plunge.

The Saturn System Through the Eyes of Cassini (e-Book)

The project manager monitoring Cassini's signal at Jet Propulsion Laboratory said that with the loss of Cassini's signal, just before 5 a.m., the spacecraft would be gone within seconds.

The spacecraft's explosive end was about more than simply alien health and safety however - with Cassini project scientist Dr Linda Spilker excited about what can be learned from the probes final transmissions. The mission already had achieved great success, and despite the chance of pounding Cassini with ring debris, flight controllers directed the spacecraft into the narrow gap between the rings and Saturn's cloud tops.

NASA is publishing the final images as Cassini descends on a special website.

Nasa explained: "In order to avoid the unlikely possibility of Cassini someday colliding with one of these moons, NASA has chosen to safely dispose of the spacecraft in the atmosphere of Saturn".

Cassini made a total of 22 dives between Saturn and its rings as part of the orbiter's so-called "Grand Finale", which began May 2. The Huygens lander separated from Cassini and plopped down on the surface of Saturn's moon Titan shortly after the arrival. That means Cassini was able to get a little deeper into the atmosphere, giving NASA more data to pore over in the coming "weeks, months, years".

"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", NASA's statement said.

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