Cassi­ni's 'Grand Fi­nale'

Cassi­ni's 'Grand Fi­nale'
Credit: NASA/JPL.

Cassini's 'Grand Finale'

Be­cause of ev­er-de­plet­ing fu­el stocks on board the space­craft, the end of mis­sion for Cassi­ni on 15 Septem­ber 2017 be­came in­evitable. If the space­craft were left to un­con­trol­lably spin around in the Sat­urn sys­tem, it could pos­si­bly one day hit one of Sat­urn's icy moons – for ex­am­ple Ence­ladus or Ti­tan. Plung­ing Cassi­ni in­to Sat­urn's at­mo­sphere will avoid pos­si­ble con­tam­i­na­tion of these moons, which could have con­di­tions suit­able for life, with mi­cro­bial par­ti­cles from Earth. To en­ter this fi­nal stage of the mis­sion, Cassi­ni's or­bit was changed to one that en­tered be­tween the in­ner rings and Sat­urn's cloud lay­ers. On 15 Septem­ber, af­ter 22 more or­bits since the start of the ‘Grand Fi­nale’, the space­craft will plunge in­to Sat­urn's at­mo­sphere and burn up in a mat­ter of min­utes, even if at any point the space­craft be­came un­con­trol­lable.

Because of ever-depleting fuel stocks on board the spacecraft, the end of mission for Cassini on 15 September 2017 became inevitable. If the spacecraft were left to uncontrollably spin around in the Saturn system, it could possibly one day hit one of Saturn's icy moons – for example Enceladus or Titan. Plunging Cassini into Saturn's atmosphere will avoid possible contamination of these moons, which could have conditions suitable for life, with microbial particles from Earth. To enter this final stage of the mission, Cassini's orbit was changed to one that entered between the inner rings and Saturn's cloud layers. On 15 September, after 22 more orbits since the start of the ‘Grand Finale’, the spacecraft will plunge into Saturn's atmosphere and burn up in a matter of minutes, even if at any point the spacecraft became uncontrollable.

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